A SECOND wave of coronavirus has taken a grip of Swansea and started to carry patients into Morriston Hospital, a health board leader has said.
Deb Lewis said the regional hospital now had 112 patients with Covid-19, almost quadruple more than a month ago.
Four, sadly, have died over the last couple of days.
“They were poorly patients who died with Covid, but I can’t say if they died from Covid,” said Mrs Lewis, the hospital’s director.
A cruel feature of the first wave of the virus was that relatives of many patients who died in Welsh and UK hospitals could not say their last goodbyes in person.
Mrs Lewis said arrangements were in place for families at Morriston Hospital now.
“We know when a patient is on what we call an end-of-life pathway, and then the family is allowed to visit,” she said.
“We give them all the relevant PPE (personal protective equipment) and make sure they’re in as private an area as possible.”
Mrs Lewis and colleague Conor Marnane, consultant in ear, nose and throat surgery and associate medical director for recovery, said the hospital was better prepared this time round.
There is a better stock of PPE, more knowledge of the virus and how to treat it, and new protocols in place.
“There have been less patients requiring intubation (being placed on a ventilator), probably because we recognise complications earlier, have a better understanding of the disease process, and know how to pre-empt that deterioration,” said Mr Marnane.
“The numbers going through ITU (intensive care unit) are lower – but it’s still early days.”
He said most Covid patients were older people and those who had other pre-existing conditions, similar to the first wave.
Asked what was more challenging this time round, Mr Marnane said: “Still trying to keep everything going that you want to keep going, while managing the Covid surge as it comes through.
“And we have got the odd staff member with Covid.”
The hospital has around 750 beds and is continuing with emergency surgery, trauma surgery and urgent elective – or planned – surgical procedures.
Urgent elective patients must self-isolate for 14 days before going in for their operation and produce a negative test.
Mrs Lewis said: “In April we had pretty much a half-empty hospital to play with. Families were taking relatives home and fewer patients were coming in.
“Unfortunately we’ve got a full hospital to start with now. Trying to maintain a level of urgent operations is a daily struggle to make sure the jigsaw puzzle fits.
“We’re not in as bad a position as some hospitals to the east of us, but that’s what happened with the first wave – it came down the M4.”
Mrs Lewis said an outbreak of the virus at the hospital’s cardiac unit in early October had been stabilised.
“There have been smaller outbreaks in other wards,” she said. “Unfortunately we have had some spread within the hospital.”
Staffing arrangements are being made for the field hospital at Bay Studios, off Fabian Way, in case the facility is needed.
Mrs Lewis said not using the field hospital would represent success.
“It is there, and it is ready to go,” she said. “I hope we don’t use it, but I’m assured it can be ‘turned on’ fairly quickly.”
She and Mr Marnane urged the public to follow the current lockdown measures.
“We know how fed up everybody is,” said Mrs Lewis. “But I think the only way we come through this is by people adhering to the ‘fire-break’. And if you visit the hospital and something is of concern, then tell us.”
Mr Marnane added: “We need to control the prevalence of the disease, and the numbers coming in through the door. That’s the rationale of the whole thing.
“Without that we are going to struggle.”
Singleton Hospital and Neath Port Talbot Hospital are playing their part in the care of patients within the Swansea Bay University Health Board area.
Mrs Lewis paid tribute to the “incredible” efforts of staff.
There have been some media reports suggesting the NHS has been alerted to a likely vaccine being made available to staff by Christmas, but neither Mrs Lewis nor Mr Marnane had heard anything beyond this speculation.
Staff morale, conceded Mr Marnane, had taken “a bit of a battering”.
“We probably haven’t had the time we need to recover from the first wave,” he said.
“We are pretty resilient, but there’s no doubt it has affected people.
“There has been a bit of a deep sigh. Then staff are saying, ‘Let’s get on with it again’. We have seen people step up already.
“But listen, it’s not easy.”