Trainee Naval doctor on the Covid frontline

A trainee Royal Navy doctor has detailed the highs – and lows – of the front-line fight against Covid in one of England’s busiest hospitals.

Christopher Storer has spent the entire lockdown period tending to patients at Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital.

The 30-year-old, originally from Warrington in Cheshire, is studying medicine at Brighton and Sussex Medical School before joining the front-line Royal Navy as a trained doctor.

He’s currently serving with Sussex University Royal Navy which gives more than 60 students a sample of life in the Fleet through patrol boat HMS Ranger.

Christopher spent the past year working at the Royal Sussex County Hospital as a fully-trained healthcare assistant in the A&E department to fund his studies.

When those studies were suspended as the lockdown began, he immediately volunteered to work full time.

Throughout the pandemic, the emergency room has been split into ‘red’ and ‘green’ zones – the former for patients suffering from the virus, the latter for non-Covid emergencies, each with their own dedicated facilities and staff.

Healthcare assistants are essential in supporting doctors and nurses in providing patient care, inserting cannulas, helping to take blood samples for lab analysis, performing electrocardiogram and ultrasound bladder scans, as well as helping patients with their personal hygiene and helping to dress and wash them

We also saw several elderly patients arriving where they had had fallen at home whilst isolating alone. Without family members or carers attending like usual, they’d been stuck lying on the floor for days in some cases

Among non-Covid patients what struck Christopher was the effect of the lockdown on the public’s mental health – particularly on the Brighton’s most vulnerable population: homeless and those living in sheltered accommodation.

“We also saw several elderly patients arriving where they had had fallen at home whilst isolating alone. Without family members or carers attending like usual, they’d been stuck lying on the floor for days in some cases,” Christopher said.

“One elderly lady had even started to show signs of hypothermia as the ambulance had brought her in. It was heart-breaking and I could only imagine what she must have been through.

“It was hard to see that the people suffering the most during the crisis were the less fortunate members of society, who seemed to have been all but forgotten while instead social media focused on people panic buying toilet roll.”

After spending the first few weeks in the green zone, Christopher also joined the direct struggle against Covid-19 in the other side of the A&E department.

Twelve-hour shifts dressed in full PPE, work was hot, tiring and uncomfortable, and while the equipment protected Christopher and fellow medical staff, the sight of them could be intimidating and they found it hard to communicate with patients – and convey emotion.

Overcoming such challenges, however, the Officer Cadet says there have also been “many morale-boosting moments” working in the hospital through the pandemic.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have worked as part of the A&E nursing team providing frontline care to patients,” he added.

“It was wonderful see how much the local community had come together to really support the NHS.”

People have donated scrubs and knitted ear protectors to help with sore marks caused by wearing surgical masks every day. At Easter, the public gave staff 200 chocolate eggs, local restaurants have provided free evening meals and a local baking group provides a homemade cake every Wednesday.

“It seems like such a small thing, but to the staff working there it means so much.”