That was the warning from front line staff working on intensive care wards in Belfast, as health chiefs warned the surge in patient numbers means more operations are likely to be cancelled as staff are once again redeployed.
In a striking plea for more young people to take up the offer of vaccination, critical care nurse consultant Anne Marie Marley said in her 35-year career she had never seen so many young people require intensive care.
“The course of the pandemic has changed from the first and second surges in the types of people being admitted to hospital,” she explained.
“Everybody’s aware that in the first surge we were having to look after older, frailer patients. This time around is very different.
“It’s like something I’ve never seen in the 35 years of my nursing career where we are having really young patients coming in, not necessarily with any pre-existing conditions, and when they come in they can be extremely unwell. Really, within a short period of time and despite all the care we can give them, they need to be escalated on to ICU. ”
She continued: “You can imagine yourselves, in the teams caring for these patients, when you see kids coming in 18 years old requiring this high level of intervention and care they are absolutely terrified.”
George Gardiner, a critical care consultant, said: “Anne Marie is right. We are seeing a different presentation of critically ill patients.
“Those that pass through the wards, deteriorate and come to intensive care are younger, much younger, and often without anything else wrong with them. If there was a perception in previous times that this was a disease of older people or more vulnerable people, the virus has changed or it’s simply now only got younger people left to infect.”
Bernie Owens, chair of the critical care and respiratory hub, said: “It is difficult for staff seeing the younger population.
“The other group of patients that we are seeing in increasing numbers are pregnant women, in their last 10 weeks of pregnancy, and some who have just given birth. It is another group of people that we would love to see come forward and get vaccinated.”
She also revealed some patients have had to have emergency caesarian sections.
“It is a small number that have required intensive care and a small number who have had to have an emergency caesarian section as a part of that,” she explained.
“However, it is an increasing number and that’s why we’re again asking that pregnant women do consider getting their vaccination.”
Dr Gardiner added: “The numbers are small but the fact that they’re there at all is worrying.”
He also warned that the unborn child could be affected, saying: “ I’m an adult intensive care doctor. It’s been a while since I did any neonatal intensive care medicine, but what I can say is that a pregnant woman who becomes critically ill and faces intensive care places additional stress on the unborn child. A
“After a caesarian section to deliver a child, the mother remains in intensive care therefore the bonding doesn’t happen at the right time. There is an impact. It’s an unavoidable impact.”
Medics pleaded with people to get vaccinated.
Dr Gardiner said: “There’s no contraindication for most people in pregnancy to be vaccinated, and therefore I would strongly encourage the message that vaccination is just as important for the pregnant patient as it is for anyone else.”
Anne Marie Marley said: “Talk to your midwife. Your midwife will guide you to the right evidence. It’s very clear guidance now. Any pregnant women out there will all have their own midwife — don’t go and look at Facebook and Twitter and sources of information that may not be evidence based.”
Four further deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 have been reported in Northern Ireland.
One of the deaths occurred in the last 24-hour reporting period, with the three others before then.
The Department of Health said there had also been 1,389 new confirmed cases of the virus in the last 24-hour reporting period. On Friday morning, there were 359 Covid-positive patients.