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Life on the coronavirus intensive care unit where every patient is unvaccinated

From her hospital bed on a coronavirus intensive care unit, Natalie Baker beams with happiness as she talks about being reunited with her young daughters.

Natalie, a 40-year-old mum-of-two, is one of the luckier patients on a ward made entirely up of people who have not been vaccinated against the virus.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News , her bubbly tone shifts dramatically as she speaks about how gravely unwell she was, just a few days ago.

Lying next to a woman taking her final breaths in the hospital’s coronavirus intensive care unit, Natalie was reminded of just how precarious her own life was.

She knew at that point, there was a good chance she wouldn’t make it home to her children.

Natalie was one of the lucky ones, and will most likely be allowed to go home to her family within the next few days, after a brief stint in critical care and a coronavirus ward.

Ward Sister Daniella Postle at the bedside of patient Natalie Baker


Joel Goodman)

The mum says she owes her life to the dedicated team of medical professionals here, who have successfully treated the terrifying effects of the virus they have become so accustomed to.

When Natalie contracted Covid-19 at the beginning of August, she hadn’t been vaccinated, as she had wanted “more time” to see how it worked and how it affected people.

Natalie is now adamant that she’ll be booking her first jab the moment she is able to.

“I’ll be doing it for my children,” she says.

“When I was lying there in intensive care I thought – there is a chance my kids are going to be left without a mum.

The demographic of patients being admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit is now much younger


Joel Goodman)

“I know I need to get the vaccine now so that if I do happen to get the virus again, I won’t end up like this.”

The Manchester Evening News visited Manchester Royal Infirmary’s coronavirus intensive care unit last month, documenting the work of brave NHS staff on the frontline. Upon arriving at the unit, they were told that every single person is unvaccinated.

“It’s a pretty stark fact and it’s one of the reasons we are so busy, because we have so many additional patients,” says critical care consultant, Dr Henry Morriss.

Unlike during the first and second wave of the pandemic, the demographic of patients being admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit is now much younger, predominantly in their early 20s to 40s.

Critical Care Ward Manager, Emily Edwards, says the “saddest” part of what is now being described as the hospital’s fourth wave, is seeing patients who aren’t vaccinated, even when it’s been available.

Consultant Dr Henry Morriss, who works on the Critical Care Ward at Manchester Royal Infirmary


Joel Goodman)

“When the patients come in to us they are usually awake and they are aware of that, and it’s just the regret they’ve got,” she says.

“You ask them why they’ve not had the vaccine and it’s usually that they’ve prioritised other things like working, and just haven’t had the time for it.”

Another upsetting feature for staff during this wave of the pandemic, has been a rise in the number of pregnant women needing to be admitted to intensive care, says Dr Morriss.

“I would guess in the latest wave we have seen around 10 to 15 pregnant women and I don’t think any of them have been vaccinated,” Dr Morriss says.

“I think there has been some uncertainty about whether it’s safe for pregnant women to be vaccinated and clearly it is and we have that evidence now. Probably some ladies aren’t aware of that.”

Dr Morriss believes reopening of society is likely to be behind the increase in pregnant women needing intensive care, coupled with high levels of vaccine hesitancy among this group.

The presentation of younger patients is visibly taking an emotional toll on staff working across the hospital’s covid wards – most of whom have been working flat out since March 2020.

Whilst on the outside world doctors and nurses can go to the pub and see their families again, inside the hospital, admissions aren’t letting up and people are still dying.

Critical Care Ward Manager Emily Edwards


Joel Goodman)

“Nursing younger patients has posed a new challenge for my staff,” says Kerri-Anne Folkard, a ward manager of Ward 9 COVID.

The unit is what is known as a ‘base ward’ and will take coronavirus patients who have just been admitted to A&E, and care for those who are most sick but don’t require intensive care.

“Lots of my staff wouldn’t have been used to nursing patients that are younger before the pandemic, so that has given cause for reflection certainly,” Kerri-Anne added.

Like in critical care, the majority of the patients being treated on Ward 9 COVID are unvaccinated. Those who have been vaccinated have been admitted to hospital for other illnesses, but have picked up coronavirus in the community at the same time.

For Dr Morriss and his team, the pressures they are facing are higher than ever, as they attempt to juggle unvaccinated covid patients, normal intensive care admissions and elective surgery.

“We are under immense pressure at the moment,” he says frankly. “We’re trying to get through a backlog of people who urgently need cancer surgeries.

“If it’s working well our planned surgeries can go ahead and not get impacted by what’s going on elsewhere, but in reality if all the other places are full we can’t get as many people in.

“We are moving heaven and earth to get these people with delayed cancer surgeries through, but there’s only a finite number of beds.

“Clearly that’s heartbreaking – if you’ve worked yourself up for a big operation and being told you can’t have it done because there are no beds is very upsetting.”

Dr Morriss says he and his team are now preparing for what he calls the ‘unknown wave’ of patients, who may have put off getting medical treatment during the pandemic.

“Is it that people are too afraid to go, do they think we’re too busy to go, actually has our health got worse because we’ve all been cooped up drinking and eating too much,” he says.

“Mental health clearly impacts our workload whether it’s overdoses or people with trauma. All those factors are why we are under such immense pressure.

“What we are seeing now, there’s an awareness that this is baseline numbers – possibly because schools are off, people are on holiday and the weather is not too bad.

“What the winter will bring is a fear.”

Dr Morriss believes coronavirus numbers will start to go up as questions are raised about how long vaccine immunity will last, coupled with the resurgence of normal viruses like flu and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“I think we are all anticipating a bad winter – maybe very bad,” he says.

“My staff have been working flat out now for a while and that is starting to have an impact. Everyone is working extra hours and hero nurses spend hours in PPE – that takes its toll.

“Have we seen the end of the pandemic? I don’t think so.”

Henry and his team say their only hope is that more people will take up the coronavirus vaccine, as they believe they can confidently say it’s making a difference on the frontline.

“First hand there is no denying what we see day to day – from how many admissions needed to come before the vaccine was around and how many needed critical care,” says Emily Edwards.

“It’s different now.”

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