Emergency doctors have spoken of the emotional impact of treating the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno.
Staff at St Mary’s, in Paddington, have been among the hardest hit, with the hospital admitting a total of 28 casualties from last week’s fire and the terror attacks on Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.
Consultant anaesthetist Dr Helgi Johannsson saw Grenfell Tower ablaze from his balcony after being wakened at 3am last Wednesday morning.
In a blog on the British Medical Journal website, he wrote: “Being able to see the sheer scale of the fire when I woke up made the tragedy much more real, and I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I drove into the hospital.
“We treated a lot of children at St Mary’s and I know many of my colleagues are still extremely upset about what they saw—trainees and highly experienced consultants alike.
“At the time of writing some of the individuals are being identified, their stories being told and the scale of the human tragedy is becoming apparent. I am much more emotionally affected now then I was on the day of the incident.
“Some would say we must remain emotionally detached and equate that with professionalism, but I am human. I saw this tragedy unfold out of my window, and I feel I am a better doctor for giving myself permission to stop, reflect on what has happened, and to grieve.”
St Mary’s response to the Westminster terror attack can be seen in the BBC2 documentary, Hospital, at 9pm tonight [Tuesday].
Speaking at a preview screening last Thursday, Shehan Hettiaratchy, lead trauma surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, told the Standard that one of his colleagues featured in the documentary was struggling to deal with the number of atrocities.
Mr Hettiaratchy said: “They said to me: ‘I’m getting towards the end of what I can cope with.’”
Dr Philip Lee, an acute physician at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, which admitted 25 fire casualties, said he had experienced the “worst, hardest week I’ve ever had as a doctor”.
He tweeted: “I hope as long as I live I’ll never have to witness or deal with any incident like this again. But we’ll learn, and be ready. Because that’s what we do, that’s why we’re here.
“Some of the stories I’ve heard, tales of heroism from fire crews and members of the public, the impossible choices and decisions.
“My admiration for the courage of firefighters and police, and what they’ve seen and had to do. These men and women are the real heroes.”
Dr Johannsson, in the BMJ blog, also revealed how the use of WhatsApp had helped St Mary’s to deliver better care during major incidents.
“One of our key learning points from the Westminster attack was not to overload the coordinating consultant with offers of help,” he wrote.
“I set up a major incident WhatsApp group which was initially met by some puzzled looks, but after two further major incidents it has proved invaluable. Fast mass communication, the ability to coordinate our response, and being able to plan the service for later on that day vastly improved the care we were able to provide.
“WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption and therefore is confidential as long as you know whose phone is in the group, and it has a passcode. It is widely used in communication within NHS teams already, yet officially it is prohibited on information governance grounds. Is it time for the NHS to take the opportunities that this kind of technology offers and incorporate it into our everyday practice?”