LAST week, I returned to Milton Keynes hospital after a fortnight for the second part of my documentary series on the NHS frontline.
What struck me the most was the relief expressed by doctors that 150 patients had recovered from Covid-19, and despite their sadness that 30 had lost their battle with the virus, they had been expecting far worse.
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A retired military police officer, he was adamant that the public should see how severe an impact Covid-19 could have on a person’s ability to breathe.
It was a testament to him that he had shown such courage to want to tell his story to the public.
Having left ICU and looking like he was making a recovery in the days leading up to my return, I wanted to thank him.
But I was devastated to discover that his recovery was a false dawn and he passed away in the early hours of Friday morning.
Second wave terror
Despite Milton Keynes’ lower than expected death toll, and seeing so many patients recover on their watch in the past two weeks, doctors spoke of their fears of a second wave.
Although Britain’s hospitals’ death rate is falling, Dr Hamid Manji, Milton Keynes’ intensive care consultant, told me that any easing of lockdown restrictions should not be accompanied by a return to people socialising normally.
“[A second wave] is a concern for me because as lockdown eases and people start to co-mingle again, there is that risk. So I think the message is still the same, even if lockdown eases, you need to continue social distancing,” he said.
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The view among the hospital’s executive directors that the pandemic is plateauing is mainly due to the public carrying out the advice of the government in terms of isolating and social distancing.
With fewer deaths than anticipated, the hospital is reopening wards, booking in surgeries and making it possible to safely divide the facility into two — Covid and non-Covid.
This is the “new normal,” according to CEO Joe Harrison, where normal life gradually resumes alongside the virus.
Family members will now be allowed to visit their loved ones who are suffering from Covid-19.
I discovered that more than 350 babies had been born in the hospital’s maternity ward since the start of the pandemic and I met new parents Laura and Tom who had just welcomed their baby girl into the world.
I was also given the honour of delivering and reading out a letter to cancer patient Anthony Rolph from his great-granddaughter which brought him tremendous joy.
The Covid isolation wards are nursed by staff from a wide range of other departments and some still find their new roles daunting.
It has to be the positivity and devotion of NHS frontline staff that should give us all hope.
One nurse, Hannah Dunkley, told me that she was “terrified, because Covid is so unknown and we’d never experienced anything like this”.
Her colleague, Lucy, chimed in: “We’re all petrified but we can be petrified together.”
Senior Sister of the ward, Caroline Middleton, had been staying in a local hotel for three weeks to avoid the risk of bringing the virus back into her family’s home.
Eternal thanks for heroes
But the gratitude of patients for our NHS heroes had not diminished at all.
One man, John Stacey, who had been in an isolation ward with suspected Covid-19, but was relieved to have been tested negative, summed it: “I’m going home soon.
"But these guys have to put their life on the line yet again, no words in the world could possibly ever sort of thank you guys enough, [you know] for all the help.”
Despite their dedication, the strain of Covid-19 is clearly having an effect on staff here.
But amid the darkness it’s important to remember that more people are recovering than dying and new life happens here every day.
Doctors are continuously finding new ways to beat this virus.
But it has to be the positivity and devotion of NHS frontline staff that should give us all hope.
Ross Kemp: On The NHS Frontline airs tomorrow at 8.30pm on ITV.
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