Andy Martin on how staff are dealing with the Covid pandemic at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital 

Over in Bournemouth, Emergency Department, consultant Dr Dave Martin, says: "We just about cope and there are times we really struggle. We are seeing more patients than in the other two peaks."

Monday was a bad day with eight ambulances and their patients racked up outside.

He says people need to follow the rules and to help with the appropriate use of the Emergency Department by first seeing their GP or accessing the minor injuries or urgent treatment centres if it is appropriate.

Bournemouth Echo:

Consultant Dr Dave Martin

He too wishes more people, perhaps including local MPs, could see the reality of the virus and that everyone would follow the rules.

Meanwhile a few strides away, you would pass the door marked Clinical Site, not far from the main entrance, without a moment's thought.

But just 20 minutes with the Clinical Site team is a real eye opener. These medical staff are the 'eyes and ears' of the hospital.

Bournemouth Echo:

The Clinical Site team

As I chat with BJ Waltho, associate director of operations, things are happening constantly.

On one of the multi image screens, a CCTV camera shows the ambulances arriving every few minutes and queuing outside the Emergency Department.

Bournemouth Echo:

The Clinical Site Room

The phone rings and another non-Covid bay must close because of a Covid infection - not picked up in the hospital but the patient tested negative on admission.

Matron Chris Trent is on a conference call because some wards are about to be flipped to give more capacity.

Another screen shows the latest Covid figures.

BJ explains: "We manage every single patient who comes into the trust. We find the beds, manage the flow through the hospital, offload the ambulances.

"We try to keep everything going. The team of nurses here are constantly making decisions about the right place for people to go, 24/7, 365."

All this is critical to the running of the hospital and a job made many times more challenging by Covid, most of all the imperative to ensure that blue patients and green patients are kept totally separate. There are currently seven wards full of Covid patients.

"If you are a green patient, we cannot give you Covid," says BJ.

"We need to keep you safe. Covid informs everything we do and every decision we make. We have had to change all our pathways through the whole organisation."

"Sometimes we all feel overwhelmed but we manage. And we all recognise that sometimes it's ok not to be ok. There's a lot of work going on around staff wellbeing. I wish people would understand that everyone and anyone can get this virus. Everyone is vulnerable. And that it doesn't just infiltrate your body, it infiltrates your whole life."

Tristan Richardson, medical director for medicine across both sites and an endocrinologist shares with me just one example of the sadness and devastation, wrought by the virus.

Bournemouth Echo:

Dr Tristan Richardson

"An elderly grandad had been isolating for months but his daughter and her partner came to see him from London at Christmas and now he is dead. It is one of many very heartbreaking stories.

"There is that dawning realisation. When you speak to families you can hear the cogs turning in their head on the other end of the phone. Oh my God what have we done?"

My last visit is Trust chief executive Debbie Fleming. She pulls no punches about the effects of the pandemic crisis on all her staff and all the teams across both sites. That's around 9000 in all.

She says: “People are traumatised. Some have post traumatic stress. Some are off sick and don’t want to come to work. But they do it for their colleagues for their patients and because of the calling that drew them into the NHS in the first place.

"It is really important that the communities we serve understand the reality of the challenges that our staff are currently facing.

"I am so very proud of all our teams - and we should all be very grateful for the dedication of everyone working in our hospitals and across the NHS."

Words and pictures by Andy Martin