4th January 2022
UK COVID Deaths – Daily 48 / 7-Day average 130
Total UK COVID Deaths within 28 days – 148,941
Total UK Deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate – 172,657 (up to 17 Dec)
James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 725
All COVID cases within South Tees Hospitals Trust – 106
James Cook Critical Care
COVID cases – 6 (3 ventilated)
Non-COVID cases – 48 (21 ventilated)
Whilst Christmas was mercifully quiet, New Year turned out to be nothing of the sort. The Bank Holiday weekend was pretty hectic at the hospital and the Accident & Emergency Department seemed to bear the brunt of it.
New Year’s Eve is never a quiet time in A&E as I’m sure you can imagine, but this year proved to be worse than usual. Alongside the usual deluge of alcohol-related problems, there were many patients with medical and surgical issues who needed admission to the ward. Unfortunately, given how full the hospital was, finding an empty bed proved harder and harder as the night dragged on. The dawn brought some respite but, as New Year’s Day continued, more and more patients turned up seeking help.
The North East Ambulance Service has had a particularly tough time over the last few days. They have been hit hard by Omicron-related staff sickness and have struggled to maintain their service at times. By New Year’s Day evening, there was a long queue of ambulances outside the hospital and the corridors were full of patients on trolleys. Everywhere you looked, you would find frustrated paramedics who were desperate to hand-over their patients and get back out on the roads.
Staff sickness is becoming an ever-increasing problem for all of us. Nearly 6% of the hospital’s staff are currently off work thanks to Omicron and this is making everything much, much harder. An increasing number of operations and routine procedures are being cancelled. Some of the wards barely have enough staff to look after their patients adequately. Whilst paying a visit to the COVID wards over the weekend I was struck by how quiet they seemed. At first glance, it felt like I had set foot upon the Mary Celeste. However, I soon saw that, whilst the corridors were empty, there was plenty going on in the bays and side-rooms as the skeleton-crew of frazzled nursing staff did their very best to look after everyone.
Up on ICU, we are faring much better. There seems no doubt now that our Omicron patients are less sick. We have far fewer patients on CPAP and those that do become very unwell seem much less likely to require ventilation. We still have more than our fair share of non-COVID patients and are continuing to operate very close to maximum capacity. Many of our staff have also fallen prey to Omicron but we are managing to cover most of the vacant shifts and we are coping reasonably well so far.
That’s not to say that it’s all peace and quiet. I have spent the last few days covering the COVID ICU and a lot of my time has been spent fretting about our horribly unwell, young COVID patient. His illness is almost certainly a result of infection with the Delta variant and he is one of the sickest patients I have seen since the start of the pandemic. Looking after him has been very challenging and we have spent the whole weekend doing our best to keep him alive. We have succeeded and his situation is, perhaps, even a little better. However, we remain very worried about him. We’re COVID veterans now and we know, all too well, what an unpredictable disease it can be. At this stage of the illness, you can never let your guard down or allow yourself the luxury of believing the worst might be over.
Yesterday, Nicky, the kids and I went for a Bank Holiday hike up on the Moors. It was a beautiful afternoon and, as we walked, we mulled over our New Year resolutions. My eldest daughter has vowed to do her homework as soon as she gets it. My son is going to try harder to chew with his mouth closed and my youngest daughter is going to spend less time on her iPad and more time outside. Nicky and I said we would try to be a bit healthier this year. You know, the usual: eat and drink less and sleep more. Hardly original but laudable, none the less. Unfortunately, given the current situation at work, I fear that our good intentions won’t last very long.
My colleague Steve summed it up nicely at the weekend - “Dry January? Yeah, right…”