COVID-19: Patients in this coronavirus ward have almost doubled in a month. Who are the people ending up there?

·4-min read

Twenty months into the pandemic, and the COVID ward at the Royal Preston Hospital is getting busy again.

Admissions have almost doubled over the past month.

So who are the patients ending up on Ward 23 - dubbed the COVID ward?

They are young and unvaccinated, but they are also beginning to be those who have not had their booster jabs.

We met Michael Croft, 73, who welled up as he described the terror of being told he needed to go to ICU.

He has had both jabs but had not booked a booster as the letter arrived the day he was admitted to hospital.

"It's frightening," Mr Croft told us. "To be really honest, I didn't realise how serious it was on ground level because until you've been in here, you don't know."

In the next bed, we met Adam McBride, 37, who was admitted three weeks ago after his breathing rapidly deteriorated.

Mr McBride, who is unvaccinated, said he had meant to book a jab but had not got around to it. He spent his 37th birthday in intensive care.

"I don't know if I was on my deathbed but I certainly felt like it," he said, before adding that if the vaccine reduces the chance of going through "what I've been through" then it needs to be taken.

Dr Mohammed Munavvar, who has been running the COVID ward at the Royal Preston since the start of the pandemic, said he knows what the virus can do - but he also knows what the vaccines can do.

He explained: "In the group of patients who deteriorate and require critical care admission, the vast majority still are unvaccinated or have received only a single dose of the vaccine."

Dr Munavvar also said he is seeing more patients who have been fully vaccinated but whose condition is much less severe and their stays shorter. That's why he says the boosters are vital.

Another problem became apparent during our visit: COVID is having a huge impact on patients with other serious respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia or lung cancer, who need hospital treatment.

We saw a bay with six beds lying almost empty because someone had unexpectedly tested positive which meant no non-COVID patients could be allowed in.

You could hear the frustration in Dr Munavvar's voice as he said: "We're helpless. We can't do anything. Our hands are tied and we can't bring them in."

What's more, waiting times for outpatient appointments are much longer because there are over three thousand discharged COVID patients needing check-ups.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is taking a significant toll on staff.

Ward manager Rebecca Tuson told us: "You know, we've had staff who've suffered with PTSD in the trust who still aren't back at work as a result of that. They've seen some horrific, horrific deaths."

Elsewhere in the hospital there is another plea - this time from the maternity and neonatal teams, who are worried vaccination rates among pregnant women are low.

We met nurse Emma Fenwick who miscarried at the start of the pandemic but said she did not think twice when getting the vaccine. She is now 37 weeks pregnant and is due any day.

Ms Fenwick told us: "As a mum, you always want to do the right thing to protect your baby. You think, I don't want anything in my body. I don't want anything to hurt my baby.

"But when you read the right information look at the evidence, you find out it's a lot safer and you're a lot more protected with the vaccine."

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The nurse leader for the neonatal unit, Jo Connolly, said she has seen first-hand the "heartbreaking" impact of COVID on pregnant women.

"Some of the women who get COVID are getting severe symptoms that require hospitalisation and can be at risk of having premature babies," she said.

Those new mums are also unable to be with their baby for the first few days, she added.

The hospital is under pressure and on top of COVID, there is the threat of flu in the coming weeks.

Staff remain stoic but they are worn out and worried about what this winter will bring.

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