As a doctor, think twice before you mingle with other households over Christmas

I have worked in a Liverpool hospital during both the first and now the second wave of Covid-19.

I’ve seen the horrific nature of this virus and how quickly it can progress – leaving patients struggling for breath despite our best efforts to treat them.

I’ve been there when, even though we’ve given patients high levels of oxygen or used mechanical ventilation, they haven’t made it through the night.

Those that are fortunate enough to survive are often left changed by the traumatic ordeal. They become emotional after realising just how unwell they were and then they show signs that this will have a lasting mental impact.

So you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t welcome the Government’s decision to let three households mingle over Christmas. 

NHS staff – like everyone else – are fed up with being in lockdown. We don’t like strict rules limiting our freedoms and we know that families are suffering as a result, both mentally and financially.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 will not take the week off for Christmas and I’m concerned there’ll be a spike in cases if people visit their families during the holidays.

The Government has issued guidance to the public that permits them to travel across the UK over the festive period so they can spend time with up to two other households – forming a ‘Christmas bubble’.

It will inevitably have devastating effects on people’s lives, including medical staff who are already overworked and overtired.

The numbers show the shocking toll of the pandemic. Across the UK, there have been over 1.5million confirmed cases and more than 57,000 coronavirus-related deaths. To date, 217,495 people have had to be admitted into hospital, according to the Government’s own figures.

If everyone visits their family over Christmas, the World Health Organisation suggested a spike in cases could come as early as the first few months in 2021. 

As a result, more people will require hospitalisation, our already overstretched NHS will have to somehow find extra capacity during the bleak ‘winter pressure’ months, and many more unnecessary deaths will occur.

A third wave will mean that, once again, the NHS will not be able to cope in carrying on with normal activities

During the first wave we had a huge surge in the number of patients we needed to care for. This demand was so high that we had to move mechanically-ventilated patients to theatre spaces or other hospitals to create bed spaces for new patients being admitted.

At the same time, we saw a massive increase in the number of hospital staff absences due to sickness or needing to isolate.

Where I work in Liverpool, cases of Covid-19 started to rise in the middle of September, causing a significant second spike. By October, the high number of patients requiring a hospital bed put us under significant pressure.

As always, hospital staff are giving their all to provide the best care possible to patients. However, there is a strong sense among my colleagues that we’ve had enough of dealing with the horrific consequences of this devastating disease and want this to end as soon as possible.

A third wave will mean that, once again, the NHS will not be able to cope in carrying on with normal activities.

We have seen from the first wave that it’s had a dramatic impact on delaying diagnosis and treatment of cancer services, for example – not to mention the majority of elective procedures (including operations and outpatient clinics) having to be cancelled.

While we are more prepared in some ways to deal with the pandemic – our knowledge of Covid-19 is rapidly advancing and a vaccine on the way – we are still witnessing large numbers of patients not surviving this deadly virus.

Christmas or not, the public must continue with simple infection control measures such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well-ventilated, avoiding crowds and cleaning their hands. 

We in the NHS are all really struggling. Levels of stress and fatigue are at an all-time high while we deal with the seemingly never-ending number of deaths from this virus.

If another wave occurs as a result of relaxing measures over Christmas, the NHS will struggle more than ever to cope. We’ll see more patients suffering and tragic deaths that need not have ever happened.

While we all want to be with our loved ones this Christmas, I would urge people not to travel long distances to see relatives and to be mindful to limit the number of people they see this year to a minimum.

How would you feel if a loved one contracted coronavirus and became seriously unwell as a result of your family gathering? Remember that families of other religions have had to sacrifice their celebrations with virtually no notice due to Covid-19. 

This year, I am fortunate to only be working up to Christmas Eve and am able to have Christmas day off, however, I will save celebrating with my extended family for another time.

Dr Rory Hicks is an infectious disease registrar based in Liverpool and a member of Keep Our NHS Public.

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