A year in the life of hospital staff working to fight coronavirus in Leeds

A year ago there were three people in hospital in Leeds with Covid.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th March 2021, 7:10 am

Staff have revealed how they hoped they could control and contain it at three patients, but Covid became the controller and what followed was a "roller-coaster terror ride".

Since that day, 4264 Covid-19 positive patients have been treated in Leeds hospitals and on the busiest day there were 331 Covid-19 patients in at the same time.

In a remarkable year where the NHS found new depths across all departments, 81 volunteers logged 4026 hours, 321,799 Covid tests processed by pathology and 80,000 vaccinations have been administered at make-shift vaccination sites, the Thackray Museum and the Centenary Pavillion at Elland Road.

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History repeating itself? The Thackray is once again at the heart of healthcare in Leeds.

Covid aside, life was still on elsewhere as 8586 babies have been born at the city's hospitals between March 16, 2020 and March 12, 2021 - that is 4174 girls, 4412 boys and 129 set of twins going

82,930 elective operations and 30,697 cancer treatments also took place.

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Here, staff from the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust share their stories.

Rhian Wheater, Senior Sister, Leeds COVID Vaccination team.

Rhian Wheater is a senior sister on the Leeds Covid vaccination team.

She said: "A year ago I shared a status on social media that talked about how we had three patients in our Leeds hospitals who were Covid positive.

"It seems unimaginable, ‘only’ three. We dared to hope that it wouldn’t spread. That we would control it, but for some time it controlled us, our every waking thought was about Covid. Nobody knew the rollercoaster terror ride that lay ahead of us.

"Nobody knew the strain on the NHS, social care services or even the mental health toll that this pandemic was about to reign over so many people.

Health staff at Leeds General Infirmary taking part in the national clap for carers last year.

"We’ve battled, we’ve fought, we’ve lost and now we start to win. I couldn’t be prouder of my fellow NHS colleagues.

"Then a flicker of light beckoned us. The first vaccine breakthrough came and in December 2020 we began to roll out the PfizerBioNTech vaccine in our lovely little purpose-built centre in Thackray Medical Museum - history itself becoming a massive part of modern day history.

"We’ve met so many people affected by Covid in one way or another and we are supporting them to keep themselves and others safe but for the first time since the beginning of this pandemic, we have the weapons to fight back.

"We have been the first people that some who are receiving the vaccine, have seen in months, that’s an honour in itself to be the real person they get to talk to. I want to hug them, but I can’t - that hurts, my arms ache to comfort another person, after all it’s what I do, it’s who I am. I am a nurse."

Dr Emma Page, Consultant Virologist.

She said: "I was stood on a rugby pitch watching my son on Sunday, January 26, only four days after WHO announced evidence of human to human transmission in Wuhan, when I got a phone call from my consultant colleague in Leeds saying that he thought “this virus is going somewhere” and asking if I could move to Virology full time (dropping my 50 per cent commitment to Leeds Sexual Health and HIV) to help prepare the response.

"This was touched on during a job planning meeting the following week where it was decided that, while highly unlikely, should Covid -19 start to ramp up it would be something to consider. A few weeks later, I was in Virology full time. On the 16th March 2020 the labs processed a total of 228 tests. A year later, it’s now between 1,500 and 2,000 every day.

"We also have Point of Care Testing in our Emergency Departments which can provide results within 20 minutes.

"We processed so many negative results at the start that our first positives came as a bit of novelty. We all rushed to check the ‘curve’ on the screen to make sure it was

real. We’ve had so many now that it’s become part of everyday life. At first it was hard for us to see the number of positives keep rising, not quite knowing what the clinical impact of each positive was for that individual.

"Over time the numbers of tests increased and the ways in which we could process them did too. Colleagues came from all over the labs to help in Virology. They set up completely new ways of working and worked a huge number of hours just to get all the tests through and results back as quickly as possible.

"The work was constant with guidance constantly changing and new platforms being tested and implemented (or not depending on their performance in verification testing) but the Covid-19 Testing Laboratory team kept each other going.

"The success of LTHT Covid-19 testing, and we are currently one of the highest volume NHS Trust or PHE testing laboratories in the country, is down, in no small part, to Chloe Chadwick (in the early days) and Nicky Bowers (currently) in expertly managing this laboratory and the brilliant team that works here.

"We knew what we were doing was crucial to getting Leeds through this pandemic.

"We never forget that behind each of these tests is a real person. We know that the results of this test can change their life and that is why getting the right result, first time, every time is so important to everyone who works here."

Over the next two days the Yorkshire Evening Post will be bringing you the first hand stories of the city's NHS workers as we continue to mark a year since lockdown.