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COVID-19: Inside the children’s ICU dedicated to saving adult coronavirus patients | UK News

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COVID-19: Inside the children's ICU dedicated to saving adult coronavirus patients | UK News

The silence is deafening.

Almost every bed on the ward is taken but no patient voices can be heard. The only sound is the constant bleeping of the life support machines.

I am standing in the children’s intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital in central London.

But there are no sick children here. It is full of critically ill adults. Almost every single one is on life support.

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The staff have to do almost everything for their patients

There are 13 beds and 12 of the patients are sedated and intubated. The ventilators help their virus-infected lungs to breathe but the healthcare staff must do everything else, 24 hours a day.

One nurse leans over an unconscious patient, dabbing the corner of his mouth with a cotton swab. She then gently wipes away the discharge that has pooled in the corner of his eyes.

This is tender, loving care administered to a patient who is in a deep induced coma, completely unaware of the nurse’s attention.

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A nurse cleans the face of a patient in an induced coma

Everywhere there are signs of this unit’s previous specialism; cartoon motifs on the walls and the floor and specially commissioned paintwork to promote healing.

The last two children needing intensive care have been transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

This is paediatric consultant Dr Simon Nadel’s unit. He tells me he’s worried children’s care in London could be “compromised”.

“It’s important to realise we are a children’s intensive care unit and as you can see we are full of adult patients which demonstrates the amount of pressure the system is under,” he says.

“People have said this isn’t a problem for children but the indirect impacts of this pandemic are affecting children really badly. The normal healthcare system we have for children in London is severely affected.

“I wouldn’t say children are not being treated properly but clearly some of their care is compromised because of the changes we’ve had to make to accommodate the adults.

Dr Nadel believes this winter wave was likely to go on longer than the first.

“I think this is worse than the first wave. We know from the numbers there are many more patients being admitted to hospital and there are many more patients being admitted to intensive care.

“The issue is that this peak, whenever it comes, is going to take longer to dissipate whereas the first wave was short and sharp. This is going on for longer and there is going to be a higher peak.”

The healthcare staff on this unit are all trained to treat very sick children. Now they must apply their life-saving skills to very sick adults.

The physiotherapists normally treat children who weigh about 10kg but now they are having to prone adults who can weigh10 times as much.

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Jo Williams (L) and Helen Avila (R) are the only link between the patients and their families

All the paediatric staff have had to adapt. Family liaison nurses Helen Avila and Jo Williams have the impossible task of acting as the only link between these patients and their desperately worried families.

COVID-19 is doubly cruel, taking away lives and any chance of a final goodbye.

“Nothing can prepare you for seeing a loved one in intensive care with all the tubes and lines,” says Helen.

“It can be quite scary so before we do it we have to prepare them. Quite often they are breaking down on the phone and normally you would hug them and tell them we are here for you. We can’t really do that when we are on the other end of a camera.”

She goes on: “It’s hard and the end-of-life situation is the hardest when we may allow one family member to come in – so the family have to decide which family member is going to come in.

“They have to wear full PPE and we might have a FaceTime camera so that other family members can be there virtually.

“A year ago would we ever think that’s normal to say goodbye to your mum on an iPhone or iPad? Now it’s sadly happening quite a lot.”

Her colleague Jo agrees. “We were all hoping desperately that we wouldn’t have to go through this again. But I think we got through it the first time and we are hopefully we will get though it again intact.”

The hospital’s paediatric ward is now also full of adults with COVID-19. The emotional toll is beginning to tell.

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Paediatric matron Hannah Deller has had to adapt to treating adult COVID victims

Paediatric matron Hannah Deller works on a children’s ward that now has only adult COVID-19 patients. She says the shock and sadness of losing a patient stays with her for a long time afterwards.

“There was one gentleman who just so sweet and we got to know quite well and he deteriorated overnight and passed away.

“He was talking about his boat and being on his boat. There were pictures of him on his boat. When he passed away we took his pictures down and I broke down then.”

This deadly crisis that has gripped the country shows no sign of easing. It is real. The patients here would say the same except they are too sick to speak.

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COVID-19: The nightmare of one father as coronavirus hit his family | UK News

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Elsa and Tommy Larkins whose baby girl was born by C-section while Elsa was in hospital suffering from serious COVID

Imagine being told to prepare for the worst: your pregnant partner and the unborn baby inside her, are unlikely to survive. 

That is exactly what Tommy Larkins was told.

The young father rushed his wife Elsa to Kingston Hospital just after Christmas.

She was critically ill with COVID-19.

Elsa is just 34 years old. She has no underlying health issues – but she was heavily pregnant.

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Tommy Larkins: “My world came crashing down”

“It was a life-threatening situation for her and our unborn baby.

“It was terrifying, the most terrifying thing I’ve been through”, Tommy tells me. “To potentially lose the pair of them on the same night was terrible.

“I’d never wish it on anybody else.”

Once in hospital, Elsa’s health deteriorated quickly. She was moved to one of the hospital’s two intensive care units.

Here she was put into a coma and intubated and Tommy was told to prepare for the worst.

“She was really sick. I’d been told to say my last goodbye to my other half – and to my unborn baby as well. Your world comes crashing down,” he said.

These painful, difficult, heart-breaking conversations are happening all the time.

Rene Coles, a 74-year-old grandmother, has spent a week on one of Kingston Hospital’s high dependency wards.

She coughs heavily into the oxygen mask strapped to her face before telling me she has been to hell – and she is not sure she is back.

“I thought I was dead,” Rene says. “I’ve never felt like that in my life.

“For these nurses to get me through it, and the doctors, I cannot believe what they did to me.

“I’m 76 and I have COPD and I still got through – they are marvellous people.”

But at one stage it was feared Rene might not make it.

“My daughter was asked to come up the hospital to say goodbye to me with my son because I might be dying,” she said.

Elsa, Melissa and Alba Larkins. Elsa's baby girl was born by C-section while Elsa was in hospital suffering from serious COVID. Melissa and Alba were told their mother's life was "on a knife edge".
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Melissa and Alba were told their mother’s life was “on a knife edge”

Tommy had the same devastating conversation with the rest of his his family. He broke the news to his young daughters Melisa and Alba.

He told the girls: “Mummy’s on a knife edge. I’m sure she is going to be okay, but she’s on a knife edge. We all need to hope.”

Gags Sekhon, an ICU nurse, was one of the critical care nurses who cared for Elsa.

He said: “Thankfully, we have not seen many pregnant women, but Elsa was particularly sick when she came in.

“She was struggling to breathe. I think the difficulty with that was because she was heavily pregnant.

“The big bump she had was pushing on her lungs. As COVID had infected her lungs she was finding it difficult to breathe anyway and then with the added pressure of baby squeezing on the bottom of her lungs it was making it even more difficult.

“So she did require quite a lot of support all the time she was here.”

On 5 January the decision was taken to deliver Elsa and Tommy’s baby by emergency C-section: a full two months before the baby was due.

The operation could save Elsa’s life but it carried a huge risk.

Tommy said he was “absolutely petrified”.

A nurse takes a video of a newborn baby in the maternity ward at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey to send to the parents as visiting hours are restricted because of COVID-19 outbreak. May 27 2020
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A nurse takes a video of a newborn baby whose parents are unable to see her – one of many similar cases across the UK

“The baby was due the second week in March. To have an emergency C-section, and a baby potentially born with COVID – it was awful.

“It was all very dark. A horrible place to be in.”

The operation to deliver the baby was successful.

Elsa and Tommy’s daughter weighs just 1.4kg and needed life support in those first critical few weeks of her birth.

Tommy was allowed to visit his daughter in hospital on compassionate grounds for the first time yesterday but Elsa is still COVID positive and has yet to meet her beautiful, tiny, fragile daughter.

It could be weeks before all three are together.

Tommy said the first few hours were the most difficult. ” It was day-by-day, hour-by-hour. She had ups and downs.

“She’s tiny and is still tiny. Basically a ventilator the same size as her body attached to her. And seeing her like that is heart-breaking.

“When doctors and clinicians tell you it could be the worse, you could lose everything here, to worry about the kids, to worry about everything, home life, work, everything we had planned, to lose all of that in one fell swoop for everything to be cut short was really difficult.

“To come through and to see that light at the tunnel, it was amazing.

“We still have little way to go.

“Hopefully we will keep pushing forward and she’ll keep fighting.”

The pandemic baby who survived against all odds has a name.

She’s called Florence – a tribute to the nurses and doctors who saved her and her mother’s life.

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COVID-19: US president Joe Biden signs 10 executive orders to curb spread of coronavirus | US News

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COVID-19: US president Joe Biden signs 10 executive orders to curb spread of coronavirus | US News

Joe Biden has signed 10 new executive orders in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus across the United States.

On his first full day in office, the newly-inaugurated president launched new measures on vaccines, masks and testing.

He hit out at Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying his predecessor lacked the “urgency, focus and co-ordination we needed”.

“We have seen the tragic cost of that failure,” Mr Biden said.

He warned that “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better”, predicted the death toll will reach 500,000 next month and said the roll-out of vaccines in the US had been a “dismal failure” so far.

The US has seen the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of any country in the world.

Mr Trump, who left the White House for Florida on Wednesday, was much-criticised for his handling of the pandemic.

He caught the disease in October, after hosting a reception where guests were seen not social distancing or wearing masks.

And when a US journalist said Mr Trump told him he knew how dangerous the virus was but liked “playing it down”, former first lady Michelle Obama accused him of trying to “gaslight the American people by acting like this pandemic is not a real threat”.

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Scottish govt official ‘asked for account of when they knew about Salmond complaints to be changed’ | UK News

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Alex Salmond has made a written submission against Nicola Sturgeon

Sky News has learned of claims that a Scottish government official asked to change an account of when they knew about harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

They concern a senior official whom we are not identifying, but who works with the current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Sturgeon’s political opponents have described the revelations as an “abuse of power” and a “clear attempt at a cover-up”.

The official allegedly asked for a press statement to be changed and feared they faced consequences for their career if this was not done.

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Ms Sturgeon’s spokesperson has previously accused Mr Salmond of ‘spinning false conspiracy theories’

The statement was a record of a conversation they had been involved in. It indicated when, and what, they knew about complaints against Mr Salmond, which pre-dated the day that Ms Sturgeon says she was first informed.

The amendment request was allegedly made after a draft copy of the statement was sent to the Scottish government, prior to its publication.

Upon receipt, it is claimed the official contacted the author and asked for the record of when they said they “knew” of the complaints to be reduced to when they had a “suspicion” of them.

The official indicated that without the change, they feared their career could be negatively impacted.

The date on which senior members of the Scottish government learned of an investigation into the complaints against Mr Salmond is a point of contention which has embroiled Ms Sturgeon in controversy.

The first minister has told the Scottish Parliament she first knew on 2 April 2018.

However, Alex Salmond has accused her of misleading parliament, claiming the complaints were discussed in a meeting she attended four days earlier, on 29 March 2018.

This is refuted by Ms Sturgeon, whose spokesperson has accused Mr Salmond of “spinning false conspiracy theories”.

The involvement of the official, and their request for changes, is contained in a submission made to the ongoing Scottish Parliament inquiry into the government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

Sky News has spoken to four people familiar with the content of the submission, which has not been made public.

All of the sources corroborate the details of the official’s request to change the account of what they said.

Ms Sturgeon’s political opponents say the revelations present her with serious questions.

Douglas Ross. Pic: David Woolfall
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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claims ‘statements have been manipulated’. Pic: David Woolfall

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The first minister has done everything in her power to evade scrutiny and dodge questions of her involvement in this scandal.

“It is outrageous that her staff acted to prevent facts reaching the public.

“Statements have been manipulated and the truth has been deliberately hidden.

“This is a clear attempt at a cover-up and an abuse of power at the heart of government. The first minister must answer for it.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We can’t comment on written submissions that have not been published by the committee and that we have not seen.”

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