On the front line: Family fighting Covid together in Surrey hospital

Debbie Cottrell, her two sons and her daughter-in-law all work at the same hospital in Surrey.

Debbie, 60, works as a specialist colorectal nurse alongside Jack, 28, an assistant physio, and Peter, 32, a psychiatrist doctor, and daughter-in-law Roxanne, 33, a junior doctor at Frimley Park Hospital.

In the latest of a series of profiles looking at workers on the front line of the battle against Covid-19, they told the PA news agency about their experiences.

– How has life changed since the outbreak?

Roxanne: They’ve doubled the capacity of A&E, one is for Covid or suspected Covid patients and the other is for non-Covid, and doubled the number of staff. We still had a large turnover of patients but because we had such an increased capacity and so much staff, it didn’t feel stressful. As things have moved down the line and we have a lot more of the non-Covid patients coming in things have got more hectic again.

Debbie: I was redeployed to one of the non-Covid wards. I was very nervous because it was 20 years since I was on the ward. Being an older nurse I thought I would feel sort of in the way but I wasn’t, everyone was very happy and we all just mucked in together.

Peter: With mental health, everyone is under tremendous psychological distress at the moment… we are definitely seeing a spike in many mental health presentations. So far, so good though I feel, our team has been fantastic.

Jack: The Covid pandemic has a massive strain on the respiratory system, so physios are really having to work a lot in ICU, donning PPE. You do see on the news struggles with PPE equipment but from the time I’ve been at work I’ve never had that experience, which makes us feel quite lucky.

– How worrying is it knowing so many members of your family are working with Covid?

Roxanne: I caught Covid. I don’t think I’ve ever been that ill in my life. I was admitted to Frimley for two days for IV antibiotics and I was off sick for about six weeks. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stand up. I basically just laid in bed and poor Peter was looking after the children. Peter and the kids had a much milder illness.

Frimley Park Hospital
The four members of the Cottrell family work together at Frimley Park (Steve Parsons/PA)

Peter: It’s a big unknown, there’s always anxiety in the background. We’re still learning more about whether immunity lasts and how long does it last. Obviously all our family members here are workers who go on to the shop floor and see people who are suffering from Covid, some of whom are extremely unwell. I just hope I’ve got decent immunity and crack on – because that’s all I can do.

Debbie: I was scared when I did hear Roxanne on the phone, she was very breathless. So seeing her back at work is great and with Peter and Jack I feel they have the right kit to be working with Covid patients.

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

Debbie: It’s absolutely lovely and very emotional, with all the neighbours clapping. We are very grateful, but I feel we’re just doing our normal job. We can get into Waitrose with our pass, sort of beating the queue. As I was going around the shop all of a sudden these flowers were put in my basket and this lady looked at me, blew me a kiss and walked away. All these things going on are so lovely.

Roxanne: Night shifts are particularly tough. You’re going into work for 10 hours or 12 hours of a night shift but you walk past some of the rainbows and the thank yous and think, ‘come on, I can do this’.

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