Intensive Care staff admit they feel 'overwhelmed' at impact of Covid-19 pandemic

  • Watch an exclusive report by Graham Stothard

Staff at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge have described the situation on the wards as 'overwhelming'.

Hospitals across the east have reported that they are busier with coronavirus now than at the peak of the first wave.

A critical situation has been declared at Southend Hospital after oxygen supplies were found to be running low. Milton Keynes Council has also declared a major incident as a result of additional pressure brought on by the virus.

Papworth is being used to take pressure off other parts of the region. Taking patients from towns where hospital facilities are being stretched to their limit, but even here they feeling the strain.

Those most gravely ill are put on ECMO machines which oxygenate the blood, bypassing the lungs. Normally Papworth has maximum of five ready for use at any one time. They now have 20.

Papworth Hospital is aiming to take pressure off other regional hospitals

As patient numbers increase, more of the hospital is being given over to treating Covid patients. So one of the day wards is now a critical care ward. Respiratory wards, surgical wards cardiology wards, are all being repurposed

ITV News Anglia was given exclusive access to the world renowned hospital and had a chance to talk to some of the patients and staff.

Erica Donnelly is recovering from the virus. She can barely speak. She has cystic fibrosis, so her covid diagnosis was devastating. And just a few days ago, she thought she might die.

Erica Donnelly: only thanks to the amazing team at Papworth that my life was saved Credit: ITV News

A week ago when I was bought in and the Outlook at the time wasn't wasn't very good family and friends were told to prepare and that I had a fight on my hands and it's only with the amazing team here who has ultimately saved my life

Erica Donnelly

The effects of the virus can be debilitating.

Claire Surridge is a patient a couple of rooms down from where Erica is being treated. When she first came round after being in a coma she couldn’t remember who the Prime Minister was, or even the year.

Claire: We take things for granted Credit: ITV news

We take things for granted we all do, we know we do. But just simple pleasures a walk over the park on a spring day just normal things it doesn't have to be anything grand no big gestures just a nice walk on a lovely spring day. That'd be nice, out in the fresh air


The workload is immense. As more nurses from all departments are drafted into intensive care, other staff fill the places left. Physiotherapists, healthcare scientists, pharmacists all helping out.

  • Watch an interview about the pressures on the NHS with Dr Sean O'Kelly, regional director NHS East

As they change to cope with demand, staff fear people aren’t taking the spread of the virus seriously enough.

Samantha Henman: It's overwhelming Credit: ITV News

Samantha Henman, Respiratory And Ambulatory Head Nurse said:

It's inconceivable to be honest we thought we'd dealt with most of it within the first surge and things were coming under control. And now we've gone into the winter and not only have we got the pressures of our own services, we are responding to the needs of the region and it’s overwhelming.

Samantha Henman
Ivan Graham - Acting Chief Nurse Credit: ITV News

The impact it has on our staff and to see the patients in the hospital, it is frustrating when we see people not following advice outside 

Acting Chief Nurse

Kevin Lygo has been in since before Christmas. He was transferred from a hospital in Essex. He recently learned one of his friends passed away from the virus. When asked if he thought people were taking coronavirus seriously enough he said:

No they're not, No. They're not. People around us have passed away... it's the real thing.


Sentiments echoed by fellow Essex transferee Dell.

"It knocked me over like a train. I was walking about at work on roofs week before Christmas like there's nothing wrong with me I'm a plumber fit as a fiddle couple of days later I'm in here. It is serious, very serious."