Omicron: Inside the hospital preparing for another wave of Covid patients

Health Editor Emily Morgan spent the day at the Royal Preston Hospital where staff are preparing for another influx of Covid patients

There is a horrible sense of deja vu at the moment. It’s just over a week before Christmas, Covid-19 cases are soaring and we all want to know whether we'll be able to see our families next week.

Only this time round there is a little more jeopardy.

That’s partly because Omicron is far more transmissible than the Alpha variant (the one that caused such a spike at Christmas last year) and partly because we still don’t know for sure the severity of this new variant.

Those two thoughts are playing on the minds of hospital staff as they not only continue to tackle the large numbers of Covid cases but also turn their focus to the booster programme which is taking up resources left right and centre.

Listen to Coronavirus: What You Need To Know - the Covid-19 podcast from ITV News

I have spent the day at the Royal Preston Hospital, where three of the UK's 16 hospitalised Omicron patients are being treated.

In fact, all three are ill with other things, not Covid, nevertheless they have the variant and clinicians are watching closely to see how they fare.

Every member of staff I spoke to told me they are worried for the next two weeks.

They are watching the case rates rise dramatically because they know the drill; less than two weeks from now they will start to see those infected today, be admitted to hospital.

For them it’s a waiting game.

The problem is, while they wait, many of them are also catching Covid, it is that transmissible, leaving the wards and clinical areas short staffed.

Having a large number of your staff off for 10 days is not only a challenge it is a tremendous strain on the rest of the team.

One of the consultants, Dr Munavvar walked me round one of their respiratory wards.

Half the bays were already full with Covid patients, the rest had patients with usual respiratory illnesses.

If the ward fills up with Covid, where would he treat the others?

It’s a conundrum that keeps him awake at night but one he has to answer before any new wave hits the hospital.

He also muses about the numbers of ill patients he has that are unvaccinated. The vast majority ending up in critical care don't have a single vaccine, his heart sinks when he hears patients’ reasons. He just wants people to listen to the science and protect themselves and his staff.In critical care, Professor Shondipon Laha is resigned. He thinks we’re going to see this happen year after year after year. This year’s wave will come, they will deal with it and move on to the next.

The difficulty with this wave is that contradictory data is coming from South Africa and the Netherlands; the former suggests the virus is mild, the later is experiencing patients with the same level of illness as Delta.

Like the rest of his staff he is waiting for the influx of patients, which he is convinced will come just after Christmas and put untold pressure on his unit.I have to say every member of staff was optimistic.

They would cope they said, they knew what they were doing they said.

What they didn’t say was that they just wanted a nice quiet, uninterrupted Christmas with their family. They didn’t say that because they know they probably won’t get that.

Their stoicism was obvious but I wonder how long they can keep that up for.