Many people outside UCLH, from government ministers to people who stop me on the street, tell me they think UCLH did an outstanding job during the weeks when COVID-19 cases were at their peak. They ask me why I think the hospital has done so well. I feel there are two answers:
Firstly, our absolutely brilliant staff. Their creativity, energy and can-do attitude came together and we worked as a united team to address any difficulties crossing our path. I don’t underestimate, however, that COVID-19 has taken an emotional toll on some of our staff. Nevertheless, everyone has remained steadfast.
We were able to keep vital services running, even at the most intense peak of COVID-19. This includes our cancer and surgical teams, who provided crucial treatment in the Macmillan Cancer Centre and Westmoreland Street Hospital, and our maternity service which delivered the son of our Prime Minister and his fiancée. And there is also the fabulous work done at Queen Square and by colleagues from the Royal National ENT and Eastman Dental Hospitals.
This edition of UCLH Magazine focuses on our staff’s fantastic work during these unprecedented times.
We were also fortunate to be well supported by the UCLH Charity team. They channelled practical and financial help from the outside world into UCLH to keep our teams dynamic and strong.
Secondly, UCLH is an organisation that embraces improvement, innovation and research and that culture, combined with our worldleading research partners, gave us a definitive advantage. We were able to quickly introduce an ambitious programme to test our patients and staff for the virus, thanks to the support we received from The Crick Institute. Wonderful innovations have also been made possible by UCL researchers, working shoulder-to-shoulder (of course with appropriate social distancing) with UCLH clinicians. The innovations include the formidable development of a non-invasive breathing device, also featured on page 10.
Now we must look ahead to the next phase. New and unexpected challenges will, no doubt, arise in the next few months and we must all remain vigilant. Nevertheless, we are now working hard to try to get back to a ‘new normal’. This means getting as many of our other services back on track, while keeping our staff and patients safe from the virus. That is proving quite a tricky puzzle. But I am sure we will do it well because of all the reasons described above!
Marcel Levi, chief executive, UCLH
We are here for you!
Rainbow-shaped floral and balloon installations outside University College Hospital, University College Hospital at Westmoreland Street and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery aimed to reassure people that UCLH was here to care for them during the pandemic. And we still are!
Opening up our services again
We are now gradually increasing non-COVID services for those patients needing urgent care, but only where this can be done safely. If you come to one of our hospitals you’ll notice some changes. We have adapted our departments to make it easier for everyone to social distance and to separate patients who have, or may have, the virus. If you are admitted to one of our hospitals, either overnight, for day surgery or via our emergency department, you will be tested to see if you have COVID-19. This includes patients who may not have any symptoms.
Upcoming tests or scans?
If we ask you to come for a test or scan, your clinical team will have agreed that it is more appropriate for you to have it than to delay it. A member of the clinical team will call to discuss the need for your scan and how we will support your visit to the hospital. Please see your appointment letter or our website for more information.
We have increased our telephone and video clinics over the past few months and most outpatient appointments are currently being done over the phone or as a video call. Patient feedback has been very positive! You may be offered the choice of ‘attending’ your consultation from home, by linking up with your nurse or doctor via phone or video. If we haven’t been in contact already, we will be in touch to let you know if this is an option for you.
If you need to rearrange any of your existing appointments, please phone the number listed on your appointment letter.
For more information please visit the outpatient section on our website
A selection of photos of our staff with the floral and balloon installations
Click on the images below to open the gallery.
I SURVIVED CORONAVIRUS THANKS TO UCLH
In his darkest moments, coronavirus patient Ertan Nazim feared he wouldn’t live to celebrate his 44th wedding anniversary.
“I felt I was sinking and there were times I felt like giving up,” said Ertan. “But then I remembered the tears of my family.”
Wife Margaret, talking via FaceTime from their home in Islington, had told him: “You must fight. We need you. You are our rock.”
Now back home with Margaret and looking back on his time in University College Hospital’s intensive care and high dependency units, he struggles to make sense of it.
Although the first days remain a blur, Ertan knows he owes his life to the skill of our specialist teams. But it is the more mundane moments that he remembers most: the nursing assistant who offered to trim his beard, another who lent him a radio, those who danced to music at his bedside to lift his spirits, the cleaner who fetched him a drink and the physiotherapists - who with great patience - helped him take his first faltering steps back to normality.
He recalls just a few names - Hannah, Dora, Mark, Mohammed.
Ertan explained: “Because of the protective equipment, I could only see their eyes. I appreciated everything everyone did for me. They were great.”
The onslaught of the coronavirus had been brutal and swift.
Ertan, a 70-year-old bus driver, usually works the 390 route from Archway to Kings Cross. At the end of March, he and Margaret decided to stock up on food at a busy supermarket because, due to underlying health problems, they intended to self-isolate.
In the following 24 hours, Margaret was struck down with severe headache, cough, weakness, sickness. “Everything was aching – every single finger, my ears, even my toes.” After a terrible week, Margaret recovered.
Ertan was not so ‘lucky’. Struggling for every breath and his body wracked with chills and fever, his son and daughter drove him to the emergency department at University College Hospital. They waved goodbye at the front entrance.
Medics instantly recognised the danger he was in. “They put me in an oxygen mask. I was told I would be going to intensive care and they asked me to ring my family and let them know where my legal papers were sorted….I realised then I might not survive.”
Ertan was among the first patients to receive oxygen using a newly developed CPAP device.
Margaret and their four adult children would wait at home for the daily update from the medical team.
Margaret said: “Those calls were our lifeline. I remember one of the staff – I think her name was Stacey – was so sweet telling us ‘we are not just treating your husband, we are treating you as well’. We weren’t just some faceless family members.”
Each breath took effort and the CPAP mask and inflatable hood remained claustrophobic. Laminated photos of Margaret, his two sons, two daughters and seven grandchildren were placed at his bedside to give him strength.
Ertan said: “I asked my deceased mum and dad: if you see me sinking, help push me back up. They died some years ago but I believe they were helping me.”
When Ertan was eventually transferred to a general COVID ward, the atmosphere became more relaxed. From raising an arm, to sitting on the side of the bed, to shuffling a few steps, physiotherapists were by his side every step of the way.
Nearly a month after being admitted, Ertan was well enough to go home. On 28 April, UCLH staff lined the corridors to say farewell. “When I saw Margaret and the children I squeezed and hugged them so tight,” he said.
The couple, who celebrated their anniversary at the end of May, are now making plans for the future, including renewing their wedding vows next year.
“So many other families have not had the same outcome,” said Margaret. “We are so grateful to everyone at UCLH - from the consultants to the cleaners.”
“In the face of what was happening, we felt impotent to stop it. There was no specific drug or treatment, no antibiotic that would magically make a difference to our patients. The positive was the sudden coming together of colleagues from different specialities – respiratory, haematology, cardiology – and of different healthcare professionals. We were all one team, treating one disease. This was everyone’s problem and there was an intense focus, a unifying force.”
James Fullerton, specialist registrar in clinical pharmacology and general internal medicine.
“I feel emotional about my patients. I am strong at hiding my feelings from colleagues and family but sometimes in the shower, at home, that’s when I cry. I love my job and giving one-toone care. In normal times I like doing patients’ hair, helping them shower, cutting their nails. Because of COVID this wasn’t possible. But I tried to keep them comfortable, to moisturise their skin, to cry with them and to give their hand a little squeeze. I know I did the best I could for them all.”
Sandra Downer, senior healthcare assistant
“During the first days I was so scared of going into a COVID ward, of becoming ill or bringing the virus back home. But I feel we were well protected at UCLH, with the right equipment and so my nervousness eased. I was no longer scared for myself – all I was thinking about was our patients. I couldn’t bear to think of them being alone, without their family. I talk to my colleagues, we share our concerns and feelings. That’s so important."
Ivan Santos, staff nurse
“I was so stressed to begin with. Now, I’m ok. It’s good to be appreciated.”
Nadine France, cleaner
“UCLH has pulled people together into a family. At the peak it was fight or flight. We dealt with it.”
Victoria Banerjee, deputy sister
“It has changed how I look at life. It is precious and fragile, make the most of it.”
Gloria Serwaa, staff nurse
“(There were) parallel feelings of fear and duty. At its peak you could feel the mounting fear. We all felt we were bracing for impact. But I was so glad to be in the NHS for this experience. And to be among the fantastic medical minds at UCLH.”
Francis Quinon, deputy clinical operations manager
Lifesaving COVID-19 breathing device trialled at UCLH
One hundred hours from initial meeting to first device – that was how quickly new breathing aids were developed by UCLH, UCL and an F1 engineering team to help COVID-19 patients around the world.
Two UCLH critical care consultants, Mervyn Singer and David Brealey, were both crucial to the development of the UCL-Ventura breathing aid, a low-flow continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
As clinicians, they were best placed to understand the problem, what patients needed, and what would work for hospitals. Based on their feedback, engineers from UCL and Mercedes-AMG HPP, a British Formula One engine manufacturer owned by Mercedes-Benz, sped into action to make the devices as quickly as possible.
Professor Singer said: “Everyone involved worked round the clock to make sure we could get the device manufactured as soon as possible as we knew how many lives it could save.”
So far, the device has been used in 60 UK hospitals. Design and manufacturing instructions were also made freely available online, and have been downloaded by more than 1,800 teams from 105 countries. Groups in India, Iran, Mexico, Canada and Brazil have already made their own versions from the designs. The UCLUCLH- Mercedes team is also working to provide devices to those countries which do not have the resources to manufacture them.
Professor Bryan Williams, director of the Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH, said: “In my view, the application of CPAP to aid breathing through devices like this has been a game-changer and has saved more lives than anything else during the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK. It has also unburdened our ventilator requirement, enabling the NHS to cope more effectively, and has allowed many patients to recover without needing ventilation.”
Machines at Mercedes-AMG HPP that would normally produce F1 pistons and turbochargers were used for production of the CPAP devices, and the company’s entire Brixworth factory, in Northamptonshire, was repurposed to meet this demand, manufacturing 10,000 devices in just two weeks.
The UCL-Ventura was first tested and evaluated at UCLH before being rolled out across the country.
UCLH chief executive Marcel Levi said: “This is another example of teamwork as the NHS, universities and industry come together to provide creative solutions that can be applied immediately. UCLH is very proud to work with UCL and Mercedes-AMG HPP to bring a major healthcare innovation to patients worldwide.”
UCLH TRIALS COVID-19 VACCINE
Healthy NHS staff around the country – including at UCLH – are volunteering to receive one or two doses of either the new ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford or a licensed vaccine (MenACWY) that will be used as a ‘control’ for comparison.
The study will assess if the vaccine can protect healthy people from COVID-19 and generate good immune responses against the virus.
Professor Vincenzo Libri, director of the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Clinical Research Facility, will lead the study at UCLH. The NIHR UCLH/UCL Biomedical Research Centre is supporting delivery of the trial, which was set up by the UCLH/UCL Joint Research Office.
Mercy Darko – Midwife
CLINICAL SITE MANAGER
An amazing 1,470 babies were born at UCLH during lockdown between March and May. Among them was baby Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson, the son of the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds. Here we speak to Mercy about what this time has been like.
Why I became a midwife...
I like caring for babies and children. I had eight brothers and a sister so I had lots of practice! I qualified as a midwife in Ghana and then joined UCLH about 18 years ago. It is something I always wanted to do.
My job involves...
Delivering babies is just part of a midwife’s job. I’ve delivered hundreds and hundreds over the years. It’s simply the best: challenging, rewarding, exciting. When I start each shift I can never be certain what lies ahead. As a midwife, I might be identifying a potential problem such as pre-eclampsia, monitoring a woman at any stage of her pregnancy or offering emotional support to someone who is worried.
In my role as a site manager...
I oversee the running of the ante and postnatal wards, birth centre, labour ward, maternal and fetal assessment unit, maternal referral unit, antenatal clinic and sometimes the neonatal unit. I try to make sure we have the right teams, the right skills and enough beds available every day. We have 78 beds and more than 40 midwives, maternity care assistants, nursery nurses and breast feeding supporters on an average day shift.
The challenges of COVID-19...
Keeping everyone safe, patients and staff, is always a priority. Most pregnant women were understandably nervous about the virus and, at first, I felt scared too. There was a minority of women who tested positive and they were cared for by a midwife in full protective equipment in a separate room. A ‘buddy’ colleague waits outside the room and responds to requests and messages sent via a walkie talkie to reduce the risk of transmission.
It’s so important to...
Build a rapport and reassure all new mothers – a gentle voice, a smile, holding their hand, even with gloves on, can help. We were determined that our masks and gowns wouldn’t form an emotional barrier. Once their baby is born they are so happy. The worries ease off, at least for a while.
Would I do another job?
No. I believe caring for women is the most important work in the world right now particularly during moments of profound transition and change. I want to empower women to make choices about their bodies that bring them health, confidence and strength. These have been a difficult few months, but every baby born brings hope into the world.