Covid: Intensive care matron tells of 'soul-destroying' experience of watching 'families being wiped out'

In a series of special reports ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan is visiting hospitals across England to witness first hand the pressure the health service is under.

An intensive care matron has spoken to ITV News about the "terrifying" and "soul destroying" experience of watching "families being wiped out" by Covid-19.

Vicky Houghton, who works at Watford General Hospital, also spoke of seeing more younger patients than the first coronavirus wave in the spring.

"We've been seeing a lot more younger people this time," Ms Houghton told ITV News.

"We're seeing families, we're having families coming in and we're seeing families being wiped out - which is just so soul-destroying."

The average age at the moment of Covid-19 patients at Watford General Hospital are those in their 30s or 40s, Ms Houghton said.

Such is the pressure the hospital is under, Watford General has had to transfer 18 patients out of the intensive care unit into other hospitals across England due to the number of patients being admitted.

This includes transferring patients to more than 100 miles away, including hospitals in Nottingham and Leicester.

Ms Houghton said that is the past this was very rare and the hospital has already increased their baseline of ICU patients.

"I'm terrified of what's going to come because you just don't know," she added.

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Dr Andy Barlow, Consultant Respiratory Physician at the hospital, agreed that there has been a range of patients that he has seen, including lots of families and much younger people being admitted to hospital.

"The thing I really wanted to draw your attention to are the ages of these patients - 52, 52, 52, 46, 53, 53 - I go on," he told Emily Morgan.

"These aren’t my or people’s grandparents on the ward here, these are school-aged children’s mums and dads on this ward."

Dr Barlow continued: "And that's the impact of breaking a few little rules out there and believing that it won't make a difference.

"The impact is 10, 14 days later - they're fighting for their lives."

One of the younger patients in the hospital is Rob Orton who has been in Watford General since November and has had to have a tracheotomy after being on a ventilator.

The 48-year-old communicated with ITV News' Health Editor Emily Morgan using a whiteboard as he is unable to speak.

Mr Orton wrote a message saying that he cannot wait to leave hospital so that he can see his wife and two sons.

Another patient at the hospital is John Raby, who tears up as he praises healthcare workers for treating him.

The 76-year-old said: "I just get overwhelmed with these guys, it's just unreal."

"They just work so hard."

He speaks of suffering from Covid-19 saying: "It was tough, it was really tough.

"They kept me going, when I didn't want to keep going," he added.

ICU matron Ms Houghton added that it has been tough for her as well as her colleagues during the second wave of the pandemic.

She said: "The staff aren't as resilient this time, last time we had everything, we had food thrown at us, we had the whole resilience, people were just really supportive of us. 

"Now, it just doesn't feel like that. Now we come in and every day it's just like gosh is this ever going to end?"

Ms Houghton added: "We thought we were having a second wave before Christmas but I think that was just a blip."

"Over Christmas and New Year we've had a massive in surge of patients, so anything we think we know and any amount of patients we think we know and actually it's not real because the next week, we end up having a lot more and then a lot more," she said.