Fighting to survive: Channel 4 reports on a year of Covid-19 at Royal Brompton Hospital

Staff at Royal Brompton Hospital’s Adult Intensive Care Unit (AICU) were praised in an extended broadcast on Channel 4 News last night (Thursday 6 May) as health and social care correspondent, Victoria Macdonald, returned one year after visiting Royal Brompton in the first wave of Covid-19.

Victoria returned to the unit to speak to the AICU team about extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a sophisticated type of life support, and heard how staff have used photography to untangle their emotions during the pandemic. She also met one patient who has survived against all the odds.

Raj, the hospital’s longest-staying ECMO patient, was filmed one year ago in hospital, as part of a previous Channel 4 News piece, during which alarms went off alerting AICU staff to his heart failure. In the follow-up, Raj was interviewed at home with his wife and children on the road to recovery. He said: “That I’m still alive is unbelievable.” Victoria Macdonald described the bond between Raj and Royal Brompton Hospital’s AICU staff as “unbreakable,” noting that the work at Royal Brompton continues with five Covid-19 patients still being treated.

The piece highlighted not only the nature of Royal Brompton Hospital’s specialist care –  ECMO is described as taking over the work of the heart and lungs, the last chance and only hope after mechanical ventilation has failed – but also the obvious compassion that is felt for patients.

Jo Tillman, senior AICU nurse, spoke about the differences and similarities between the first and second wave, saying: “You never quite knew when it was going to stop. You always had to have some sort of plan in mind about where you’re expanding to next, where are the team coming from, how can we best accommodate this.”

 The Channel 4 team also focussed on the importance of prioritising staff wellbeing and spoke to AICU staff about the photo exhibition that has been created in collaboration with rb&hArts and design agency No More Heroes, to commemorate staff’s remarkable experiences during the pandemic. Lorraine Campbell, lead nurse, describes the exhibition as: “Poignant, you have to lean in, you have to look closely.”

Victoria MacDonald closed the news piece by saying: “Now is time to take a breath; for the patients, a breath to survive. For the staff, a breath to revive.”