Exclusive: Inside Ulster Hospital's Intensive Care Unit

Sitting on the edge of a bed in the Ulster Hospital’s ICU a nurse holds her patient’s hand and reassures him.

“You’re scared. I know you’re scared. It’s going to be okay.”

The calmness of this moment belies the pressures inside this ward.

Just metres away, staff in full PPE, go through a glass door partition and walk into the ward’s red Covid zone to start their long, exhausting shift.

We are inside the ICU to see first-hand the devastating impact that Covid is still having on the health service.

Outside life almost appears normal. But not in here.

This ICU has been doubled in capacity to cope with the number of patients coming in.

All Covid beds are full. Just three non-Covid ICU beds are left available.

“We maybe haven't had that really high peak that we saw with first and second waves of Covid, but this (wave) has now been going on much longer,” ICU Consultant Dr Bob Darling says.

“To be honest with you, if the numbers keep going up, the system will collapse,” Dr Darling warns.

The pandemic has been taking its toll on staff.

Critical Ward Manager Jenni Hamilton says they are at breaking point.

“The team of nurses working in this unit are amazing … and do the absolute best they can. But they're starting to break … So much so that I've had to bring a psychologist into the unit five days a week, just for the staff,” she says.Chief Scientific Officer, Professor Ian Young, has said Covid cases should dip next month, but warned another surge could hit in the winter.

Around 80 to 90 percent of Covid patients in need of hospital treatment are unvaccinated.

The message from health professionals is clear - more people vaccinated, less Covid patients seriously ill in hospital. Only then will normal services in hospitals be able to resume.