Covid: Inside the hospital relying on army medics and volunteers

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

Army medics and volunteers have been drafted in to help care for seriously ill coronavirus patients at Stoke-on-Trent’s main hospital.

However, this is not a one off.

Some 400 military personnel are now working alongside doctors and nurses in hospitals across London and the Midlands, according to NHS England, with personnel also drafted in to hospitals in Bristol and Weston.

Eighteen members of Armed Forces staff have been recruited at the Royal Stoke University Hospital for the next three weeks.

The hospital is also relying on volunteers to function, including people like Zoe Beech.

Zoe Beech, who normally works at a local leisure centre, is volunteering to alleviate some of the pressure on the Royal Stoke hospital. Credit: ITV News

Ms Beech, who usually works as a fitness instructor at a local leisure centre, said she is willing to help “for as long as they need me”, carrying out admin tasks so hospital staff can focus on delivering care to patients.

“It’s quite nerve-wracking being here today,” Ms Beech told ITV News, as she started her first day on the ward.

“I know a lot of people who work in the NHS and I know the help that’s needed here and when they gave me the opportunity, I jumped at it.

“It’s nice to be here and it’s nice to help out as best I can.”

Staff at the hospital have been under intense pressure for the past few months, declaring a major incident at the end of November because of the high number of patients.

The hospital’s critical care unit is working at 190% capacity, caring for 58 coronavirus patients on its ICU wing, with 295 coronavirus patients on other wards.

Stephan Krueper, a critical care consultant, revealed the hospital has even taken nine coronavirus patients from as far afield as London, but have stopped due to the risk of being overwhelmed.

“At the moment, the pressure in the West Midlands is as high as in London so we’re not taking any more patients in but the pressure is really, really high,” he said.

“We hope that by mid-February, if the lockdown continues, the pressure on the hospitals and critical care units come down but that’s another four weeks away maybe.

“The pressure is much higher than in the first wave… we’re cancelling urgent operations every day because we have no space on the critical care unit.

“It’s not just the Covid patients who are dying as a consequence, it's also some patients who have urgent operations cancelled.

“Cancer patients and other patients will die as a consequence of the lack of critical care resources.

"It’s estimated to be in the ten of thousands as well, so they come on top of the Covid deaths.”

One patient who spoke to ITV News could not speak highly enough of those dedicating themselves to battling the UK’s Covid crisis.

Denise Coleman, 67, has been inside the hospital’s ICU for nearly two weeks and was on the verge of tears as she paid tribute to the staff and carers nursing her back to health.

A care worker herself, Ms Coleman wrote a poem in tribute to those who have helped her during her time on the ward.

She said: “‘They wore blue, they wore green and all colours in between. I have Covid, please save my life.’”

Fighting back the tears, Ms Coleman added: “I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done. They are angels, every damn one of them. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re professionals, consultants, healthcare workers, it doesn’t matter.

“They all want to get you better."

Watch Emily Morgan's report from Monday: Intensive care matron tells of 'soul-destroying' experience of watching 'families being wiped out