A year on the frontline at Newcastle's RVI

Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

I'm on ward 47 at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary. A year ago, it cared for plastic surgery patients. Since then, it has been enlisted in the battle against Covid-19.

It has been a profound change, and one that has brought huge challenges to even the most experienced of staff. Junior sister Sarah Ferguson, who has 20 years of nursing experience, tells me teamwork has seen them through.

When we first came on the ward it was just so scary, you were just so scared you were going to do the wrong thing, scared you were going to take COVID home to your family. It was just so different. But with the great team that we had ... it was unbelievable. It was so supported.

Sarah Ferguson, nurse

That sense of mutual support is talked about by every member of staff I speak to on this ward. It is clear though, that Covid-19 has taken its toll.

The pressures brought by the virus are illustrated - quite literally - in 'silver command'. This is the hospital's nerve centre, where decisions are made on where Covid-19 patients can be placed.

Here, a graph projected on the wall shows how the pandemic has brought three separate peaks in admissions; first in the spring, then in autumn, and now, most sharply, from the start of January.

Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Junior doctor Ursula Blyth was working in paediatrics when she was drafted in to support the fight against against the virus. After initially feeling slightly overwhelmed, Ursula tells me she is now much more confident about her new role. There is though, no escaping the Covid 'rollercoaster'.

When we discharge a patient home or we clear a bay, then it does feel like a really big win and you do feel like we're getting on top of it and then you come into work the next day and the bay's full again. There are moments where it feels like it's getting better and other moments when it feels relentless.

Dr Ursula Blyth

The sacrifices made by staff over the past year extend far beyond the hospital itself. During the first wave of the pandemic, orderly Chris Waugh spent several months living in an hotel to protect a vulnerable member of his family. Now, he hopes that everyone will play their part in reducing the spread of the virus.

Covid's tough. It's tough to deal with. It makes everything that we do in the hospital harder. Also, the people here have to abide by the same rules when we leave the building as everyone else does. We're frustrated. I want to go to the football match with my mates, I want to go for a pint with my brother. But it doesn't happen until we all get through this together.

Chris Waugh, hospital orderly

For journalists like me, the first anniversary of the admission of the first COVID patients to the RVI feels highly significant.

I am conscious, though, that even as we reach this milestone, many frontline staff are simply concentrating on their work - fighting the virus and saving lives. 

  • Watch Helen Ford's full report here: