Every day in Tower Hamlets I hear from families who have lost someone to Covid

I see ambulances racing up and down my street, taking Covid patients to hospitals which are already at breaking point

Rabina Khan
Monday 11 January 2021 14:53
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Living in Tower Hamlets, I was sent a message from my surgery stating that one in three people with Covid-19 don’t have symptoms and can pass it on to other people. 

Every day, I am dealing with families who have lost loved ones to this virus – both young and old. The Royal London Hospital, which is situated just a few yards away from my home, is at breaking point, as are many other hospitals across the country. I see ambulances everyday racing up and down my street. Wards are overflowing, ambulances with Covid patients are queued outside, waiting lists are growing and healthcare workers are enduring overwhelming workloads.

Staff sickness rates are up to three times higher than usual in many hospitals, not just because of Covid or having to self-isolate, but because of the mental effects of treating patients during the pandemic, such as anxiety, stress and PTSD.  

Nicola Rudkin is the deputy associate director of nursing surgery at the Royal London Hospital. She said: “The nurses are so stretched, they feel they can’t give the one-on-one standard of care they are used to. We have never seen mortality levels like this. The worst was seven deaths in a shift, which is huge. Nurses will be on a video messaging call with a dying patient’s family so that they can say goodbye; then at some point they have to hang up that call and switch their mind to treating the next person. There is no let up.” 

The prime minister said that hospitals are 40 per cent busier than during the first peak of the virus in April 2020. Everyone anticipated a rise in infection rates so why, after investing so much money in Nightingale hospitals, was the decision taken to close them down?  

During the first lockdown, one consultant questioned the opening of Nightingale units by saying: “Was it a disproportionate use of funding and resources, given what’s happened in care homes, dementia wards, and prisons? The Nightingale hospitals might have been done for the best reasons, but there’s a danger that they’re going to be seen as white elephants.”  

Now that we do need them, many of them remain vacant, despite the NHS struggling to meet the vastly increased demands. Although some Nightingales have re-opened for non-Covid patients, it seems to be too little too late.

As happened in the spring, firefighters are volunteering to drive ambulances to cope with the number of emergency calls having risen from an average of 5,500 on a busy day to 8,000.

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Burial rites vary from culture to culture and different faiths, but regardless of this, the huge number of deaths mean that funeral providers cannot keep up with demand, which has resulted in lengthy delays. It is a Muslim tradition for burials to take place within 24 hours of death, so this situation has been particularly distressing for many families.

This week I dealt with the case of a family whose father sadly passed away on New Year’s Day. Although a swab test was taken from their father, the family are still awaiting the results and are still unable to make funeral arrangements. 

The deceased’s son, Raju Ahmed, said: “I cannot explain how distressing this situation is for my family. Not only are we having to deal with the loss of our father, but the delay in the test results has left us in limbo. As Muslims, it is important for our deceased loved ones to have a dignified burial, yet any measures that were in place to accommodate multi-faith needs have been affected by the pandemic.”

Clearly, frontline workers are most at risk because of the nature of their jobs, but there are many more people who do have a choice to “stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

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