On the front line: Intensive care doctor says the rule book has been torn up

Intensive care consultant Dr Ron Daniels says the rule book for work-life has been torn up and thrown away amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In the second in a series of profiles looking at workers on the front line of the battle against Covid-19, the 49-year-old doctor, who works for University Hospitals Birmingham, explains to the PA news agency how life has changed and how he values the support being shown by the public.

– What was your role before the coronavirus outbreak?

My role in the NHS is split between intensive care and giving anaesthetics for routine surgery.

Typically I would spend one full week in every eight covering the intensive care unit on-call from home at night, and in work during the day from 8am until 6.30pm.

Every Friday outside that one week I would be giving anaesthetics.

I’m usually part-time in the NHS because of all the work I do as executive director of the UK Sepsis Trust, who I work for the rest of the time.

Ron Daniels
Ron Daniels says the rule book has been torn up (Ron Daniels/PA)

– How has that changed?

As has been the same for everyone, the rule book has just been torn up and thrown away during this outbreak. Our colleagues have all come together to manage the intensive care unit.

I’ve not done a night shift for 19 years, since I was a senior registrar, but now I’ve started doing nights on call, resident in the hospital from 8pm until 830am.

In a few weeks time I’ll migrate over to the day shift. So I’m putting in many more hours for the NHS than I was before.

– What is it like fighting coronavirus and what are you facing right now?

The range of emotions almost starts with apprehension. About new ways of working, operating in an unfamiliar environment with people you don’t know very well.

It was about personal protection and personal health, but I’ve now been tested positive, so I’m likely to be at least partly immune.

There is genuine fear there about whether the NHS will cope.

There’s also the fear and the reality of watching patients deteriorate and not having anything to offer.

Once patients are in intensive care there’s no specific treatment for coronavirus that’s been tested and proven, and so we see patients deteriorating and we’re powerless to do anything about it.

There’s also the reality now of watching loved ones sometimes having to say goodbye to their relatives virtually, via Skype and via Facetime.

– Who do you think are the heroes of this pandemic?

We’ve heard in the media about the key workers and everyone’s stepping up to the plate, and that’s absolutely correct.

We couldn’t be doing this, in my work, without the porters, the cleaners, the hotel servicing staff, the catering staff.

The support staff in areas that the public don’t often see. The laboratories and so forth.

Everybody is coming together and everyone is coming with the same question – what more can I do, how can I help? That’s absolutely brilliant.

Staff from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London
Ron Daniels said the support from the public for the NHS has been ’emotional’ and ‘incredible’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

– What do you make of the public support for the NHS?

I missed the first clap for key workers because I was handing over on the intensive care unit after a long day before a night shift.

But last Thursday I was sitting at home, I’d put the television on to try and unwind and I heard a noise.

It was like a ripple, it was almost like a thunderclap. Literally everyone on my street had come out of their house and was cheering and clapping.

It was, as you can tell, emotional. It was incredible, it was amazing.

I didn’t know how to respond – do I clap in support of my colleagues and fellow workers and friends? It was both strange and beautiful.

– What do the public need to understand about this virus?

Right now, as we approach mid-April, the NHS is coping. The only reason we’re coping is because of our public and the way our public is behaving.

We’re all people, we know lockdown is hard. It’s difficult and challenging not seeing our friends and family and losing that personal interaction.

But it is saving lives.

I think it’s unlikely it’s going to be changed any time very soon, we just have to learn to embrace this new way of working.

We’ve got to hope for the future because we’ve seen in other countries that this crisis can be brought to an end.

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