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Hospital asks medical students to help as it struggles to cope with COVID pressure

Written by on 28 December 2020

A surgeon in Wales has warned life-saving care of non-COVID patients is under threat if critical care units continue to fill up.

Wales currently has the highest case rate of coronavirus in the UK, with one in 60 people testing positive.

A severe shortage of staff to deal with the growing number of patients prompted the health board that runs the largest hospital in Cardiff to tweet an emergency appeal for medical students to step in and work this weekend.

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board tweeted “our critical care department is urgently looking for assistance from medical students or other staff groups who have previously supported with proning patients”, and asked for volunteers to begin work on Sunday.

And a senior A&E nurse has admitted he “can’t put into words how scared I am” about the NHS coping in the months ahead.

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David Smith, who is an A&E nurse in the south west of England and chairs the Royal College of Nursing Emergency Care Association, said: “I’ve worked in the NHS for the best part of 15 years and I am genuinely worried for my colleagues and what’s going to happen.”

He added: “I really just hope that people obey the rules.

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“I’ve got very senior colleagues who are really fearing about how hospitals are going to cope after Christmas after people have been allowed to mix. It’s just going to amplify the cases.

“We’re at full capacity. We’re at stretching point.”

On Sunday, officials in Wales said there had been a further 4,142 cases of coronavirus, taking the total number of confirmed cases there to 139,642.

Public Health Wales reported another 70 deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 3,368.

Officials said the data was for a 48-hour period from 9am on Christmas Eve to 9am on Boxing Day.

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Shakir Mustafa, a consultant surgeon at the neighbouring Cwm Taf Univeristy Health Board, told Sky News critical care units across South Wales were reaching capacity.

“If it’s filled with COVID patients, it does not mean that we’re just dealing with COVID and not dealing with anything else,” he warned.

“It does mean that we are unable to physically have someone who’s had a bleed after giving birth, for instance – or had a burst appendix, or somebody suffering from sepsis.

“We’d like to look after all our patients and we’re at a situation where this is under threat.”

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Those suffering long-term symptoms of the coronavirus have felt left behind for months but dozens of clinics are now open to help.

Mr Mustafa has been involved in the deployment of medical students, and describes their role in helping alleviate pressure during the peak of the first wave and now as “vitally important”.

But at hospitals across the UK, frontline staff are warning of a perfect storm this winter, with rising case numbers and the new, more infectious strain of the virus putting pressure on staff and services.

Following the appeal in Cardiff, sufficient numbers of people have stepped in and the Cardiff and Vale UHB said the position had improved.

But it warned the critical care unit remained extremely busy due to COVID-19 and winter pressures.