Hospitals in the South East hardest hit by extra patients in ICU

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Sally Simmonds

A new report reveals that hospitals in the South East have been hardest hit in terms of excess numbers of patients in intensive care.

Critical care consultant Steve Mathieu from Romsey in Hampshire, who compiled the data, says staff have been running on adrenaline, and it has run out.

The difference this time is the number of people that are coming though that we're caring for, the high levels of death that we're seeing, we're used to it but it's emotionally draining, because we want to get people better, we want to do our best but Covid is a really horrible disease.

Steve Mathieu, Critical Care Consultant

In normal times, one in five patients admitted to intensive care (ICU) do not survive.

However, with coronavirus not only are there are many more patients, but nearly half will die.

Credit: ITV News

Across England, there were 3,423 patients in ICU beds in January 2020, compared to 5,446 in January 2021.

The South East has seen the greatest increase, which is equivalent to creating 27 extra intensive care wards.


ICU beds occupied across the South East in January 2020


ICU beds occupied across the South East in January 2021

After 22 years in medicine, and 11 years as a critical care consultant, Dr Steve Mathieu has never seen staff so damaged.

He said: "We're seeing really high levels of moral distress, chronic fatigue and mental health concerns with our staff and we're going to have to find a way of look after them, because otherwise without those staff we don't have an NHS to support patients."

For me, the bit that I found most hard, and I know colleagues up and down the country have also found difficult, is having those difficult conversations with family members over the phone.

Dr Steve Mathieu, Critical Care Consultant

Credit: ITV News

Doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and psychologists are among the staff who have had to care for extra patients because additional trained staff are not available.

Colleagues have rallied round, but with some lacking ICU expertise, many are not used to seeing patients dying.

Staff really do value the space and time to reflect on what they've been though, to psychologically process the traumas and horrors that they've seen, and make sense of the pandemic.

Dr Julie Highfield, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

As infection rates fall and waiting lists lengthen, the pressure is on staff to get back to normal.