Posted: Fri 3rd Jul 2020

Senior North Wales doctor tells how coronavirus prevented him seeing his dying father

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jul 3rd, 2020

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A senior doctor today told of his personal battle with Covid-19 and how the disease robbed him of seeing his dying father.

Wrexham Maelor respiratory consultant Dr Stephen Kelly revealed how most of his colleagues became infected with coronavirus and ‘risked respiratory failure and death, simply for doing their job’ as they battled the pandemic.

And he told how unreliable tests meant ‘in the early weeks we moved many false negative patients to ‘safe’ areas’ where they were likely to have infected other patients.

The British Medical Association Welsh Consultants Committee member also issued a stark message about funding, saying he didn’t know how the public had “put up with the level of NHS service over the last 30 years”.

Sat in his office Dr Kelly nodded to a window to his left as he explained how his father Gary, 77, had been ill for some time and lay in a ward just a few hundred yards away.

He said his father had not contracted the virus but it stopped Dr Kelly from being able to visit up until his death in May.

He said: “I can pretty well see the building he was in from here. It’s not a place I normally go to, so literally he spent a month, month and a half just a few hundred yards from my office.

“I would literally walk past the ward going to other parts of the hospital. I didn’t see him until he passed away – I got there too late for him ultimately.

“That’s sad but it’s an experience lots of people have had.

“I suppose it’s hard when you’re walking past the ward but it’s not easy when you’re at home and can’t come anywhere near the hospital – that experience is very tricky for people.”

Dr Kelly told how staff quickly had to learn how to “don and doff” PPE from colleagues who had worked with Ebola and be fit tested for face masks as they ran up to five wards at the height of the crisis.

He revealed how early swab testing of patients was not as reliable as they would have liked.

“We learned as patients came in, so some things we could have done better with hindsight,” he said.

“We initially did not know how sensitive the swab tests were and in the early weeks we moved many false negative patients to ‘safe’ areas where cross infection then likely occurred.

“Now, if we suspect Covid-19, we swab and swab again.”

He said the disease was unlike normal influenza and staff became good at spotting Covid patients.

He said: “We could see those at risk of being ventilated on the day they came in, but I was caught out by several patients who had been very ill seeming to get better for a couple of days to then suddenly crash in the now recognised ‘cytokine storm’ and need ITU.

“I learned not to be reassured until seeing 3-4 days of improvement.”

Dr Kelly said he had to make difficult calls to people but then felt guilty because people were so nice to him.

Two of those calls stood out, he said.

“I can’t forget telling a soldier just leaving his house to help build a rainbow hospital that his father was not likely to make it to the end of the day, and one to an elderly lady to tell her that her husband was deteriorating when I knew her son was also ventilated on ITU and at serious risk,” Dr Kelly said.

Most of his colleagues caught the virus as they treated patients – with many medical staff feeling there was not enough PPE to go round initially.

Dr Kelly said national PPE guidance matched the stock they had rather than what they needed “to be safe”.

He added: “The false belief of ‘safe patient areas’ filled with those early false negative patients led to inadequate protections for staff and close working conditions likely spread the virus among us quickly.

“Many of us faced the very real risk of respiratory failure and death, simply for doing our job.

“Thankfully my wife and I recovered after a few quite unpleasant days and our two children had no symptoms despite high exposure.”

However he said the way the service got things done, in a way he’d never seen before filled him with hope the NHS can work in a better and faster way, with more funding from those who hold the purse strings.

Dr Kelly, who has been at Wrexham Maelor for 16 years, pulled no punches about lack of NHS funding.

He said: “Before Covid-19 we lacked staff, beds, were swamped with patient numbers and my actual take home pay was less per day than 16 years ago when I was still at the bottom of the salary scale.

“How we will be able to function with Covid-19 still here and needing so much more working space to allow safe practice and let alone catch up with months of inaction will be the real hard work.

“So at the next election perhaps ‘clap’ a door stepping politician in the face to wake them up to provide the funds and allow a service the country can really applaud.

“I don’t think it’s terribly politically incorrect for me to say you go to hospitals, we’re not flush with beds, we’re not flush with staff.

“Being completely apolitical, I don’t understand how the British public has put up with the kind of level of service in the NHS that they have for the last 30 years.”

By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter

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