Hospital staff's humanity and love made me proud to be able to tell their story, writes Emily Morgan

There is something very sobering about going into an Intensive Care Unit. But so much more so today.

What struck me first, as we walked into Kettering Hospital's ICU, was the silence. Clinicians in hazmat suits huddle around sleeping patients, monitoring oxygen levels, checking blood pressure and, as I witnessed, caring deeply for them.

Staff speak in soft, low voices. They gently talk to their patients as they change their cannulas or prepare to move them. I was touched by the love and care they show.

  • Dr Phil Watt explains the situation inside ICU

All the patients I saw in the unit were sedated and on a ventilator, except for one. Most had been there for around three weeks, and one patient was on her 24th day in the unit.

I asked the consultant we were with, Dr Phil Watt, the prognosis of the patients, how are they? Are they all stable? His answer was so honest, it floored me. He explained that many of them are, yes, but this virus is so unpredictable, anything can happen, at any moment. There are days when patients appear to be getting better, consultants of taking them off the ventilator, then out of the blue they deteriorate and talk turns to palliative care. Of course it works the other way round too, patients suddenly improve, and with no warning.

Credit: ITV News

The second thing that struck me was the age of the patients. I don't think I was expecting to see very elderly patients but it did take me by surprise to discover the majority were in their 50's and 60's. Young men and women, with no underlying conditions, on life support, fighting for their lives. That has had a huge impact on the staff at Kettering. Their youngest patient to die was 38 and Dr Watt said it affected them all, even him.

The emergency care matron I spoke to, not in ICU, but the urgent care ward, said her main concern is the well being of her colleagues. The anxiety levels are so great amongst staff she is constantly monitoring their mental health and trying to ensure they're looked after as best they be. She too was not immune. Louise Hyde has moved out of her family home to live at the hospital. The stress of living at home and worry she might pass something on to her family was so much greater than working with Covid-19 patients that she made the decision to temporarily leave. It made me think of my own family and I found it hard to continue the interview.

Credit: ITV News

The working conditions for staff at Kettering are like nothing I have ever experienced. We've all seen pictures of staff in high risk areas wearing hazmat suits, goggles, masks, visors, hoods but until you wear all that equipment and walk into a warm ward you cannot imagine what it must be like. The goggles steam up immediately, so you can't see very well, the mask is claustrophobic and hard to breathe and speak in and the hazmat suit is cumbersome and hot.

Despite all this, the doctors and nurses are treating patients, talking to them, writing up notes, making calculated life and death decisions. Watching them work was the most humbling thing I have ever experienced. When they take a break, after about four hours, (four hours!), they painstakingly take off their kit and they look like they've beaten around the head. Their faces are red with heat and pressure marks from masks and goggles look painful. This is the reality for NHS staff now. It's frightening but they were doing it with smiles and grace.

While we were filming a patient died. I noticed the nurse who'd been looking after the elderly woman was holding a small, crocheted red heart behind her back as she entered the room for one last time. When the nurse came out we asked her what the heart was for. She told us a little heart is placed with every patient who has passed away and another is sent to their family. For those who can't be with their dying loved ones it's a small token to make them feel like they were there.

There is little to feel heartened about during this awful pandemic, but it's moments like that which do truly offer some consolation. The humanity and love I felt the staff had at Kettering has made me proud to be able to tell their story, and perhaps offer some hope to families so cruelly shut out from hospital care.

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  • During filming the ITV News crew used their own PPE