THE past year has been hard on everyone – no more so than the hardworking staff on the COVID-19 frontline at Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

Alongside the usual pressures and physical demands that come with running a medical facility, teams right across the world are coping with a moment of history none of them will ever forget.

Dr Steve Stanaway, a medical director at the Maelor, has given an insight into the emotional struggles that have gone on behind the scenes as staff at the town hospital continue to fight against coronavirus in one of the worst affected areas in Wales.

He told the Leader reporter Andrew Nuttall, during an exclusive interview that it has been nothing short of an ‘emotional rollercoaster’ when coming up against the challenges of coronavirus – filled with twists and turns along the way making nothing simple.

Coupled with anxieties about their own personal safety, not seeing their families and living under the same level of tough lockdown restrictions – Dr Stanaway says the seriousness of the situation drew out the best in people but also left its mark on staff right across the hospital mentally.

Dr Stanaway said: “This has taken its toll on the mental health of the staff. I think people have been resilient, but I worry about what will happen as we go further forward – particularly as the acute hopefully pressure drops.

The doctor explained how a support service was set up early on in the Maelor that was “largely used”, allowing staff to take that time needed to take a breather from the situation before getting stuck back in as duty called.

Staff were encouraged to make use of their annual leave to be able to take much-needed breaks from work and the pressures that come with that.

He praised the Maelor teams for continuing to help each other through this so that they can continue helping everyone that needs them – adding that the whole camaraderie of the teams right across the hospital is the biggest reason things continue to operate as they do.

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Dr Steve Stanaway has given an eye-opening account of the pressures faced physically and mentally at the Wrexham Maelor Hospital [INSET IMAGE CREDIT: ITV]

“There is obviously a huge amount of peer support,” he says.

“Hospital workers are very used to working in close knit teams, they see and do things that other people don’t as part of the nature of the job and because of that they get very bonded. There’s been a lot of peer support going on.”

Dr Stanaway said that, in a mixed bag of emotions, he has witnessed feelings of anger, frustration, and – sadly – shame when situations arise tackling an unprecedented situation.

From healthcare acquired cases to the sad deaths attributed to the virus, the doctor admitted things haven’t been easy or always gone to plan. He told how there has been ‘daily’ tears and upset on the wards from staff who share an emotional connection with what their patients are going through.

He says that staff were not sleeping well during the peaks that have come and had worries about what the next day would bring.

The level of uncertainty and needing to be one step ahead is what drove that anxiety, Dr Stanway says, but being ready for any eventuality was crucial to keep things from spiralling out of control.

As part of the management team, he says that senior doctors are well aware of the mental pressures and do all they can to ensure support is offered and available but worries it still may not be enough.

He said: “We know this has been difficult, its gone on a lot longer than any of us thought it would at the beginning. We are learning as we go along but those measures [to help staff] have been put in place.”

Patients do continue to take top priority at the hospital – with various measures in place to keep the chance of transmitting the virus further into the community down such as restricting visitors and ensuring that an adequate supply of top-grade PPE is available,

However, the damage caused by the initial lockdown is starting to come to light as NHS pressures continue to mount following a backlog caused by the demands of coronavirus diverting attention away from other areas of the hospital.

Dr Stanaway said that the team in Wrexham have “coped” with COVID’s demands – but it has come at “a huge price”.

He said: “You consider the waiting list now for non-urgent surgery which is the highest its ever been. We’ve got a huge battle ahead of us to get that down.

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The doctor urged everyone not to drop their guard as the lockdown measures across Wales continue to be in force at Alert Level Four.

He went on to explain how patient are waiting in the emergency department longer than they’ve ever had to before – pushing an existing problem to a ‘whole other level’ - simply due to the strain caused by coronavirus.

Dr Stanaway went to say that, even though the country knew COVID-19 was on the horizon back in early 2020, it didn’t stop it being any less surprising when it reared its head in North Wales.

The Leader reported that, on March 12, the first case of the virus was identified in the Wrexham area. Now, almost 11 months on and that number stands at more than 10,540 cases having been documented and the county has been named as one of the areas in Wales seeing the highest levels of infection.

Flintshire remains close behind Wrexham – having reported 8,450 cases of the virus since the pandemic started.

The consultant has offered up a heartfelt message for people across Wales as the tough lockdown first imposed before Christmas continues into February – and it couldn’t be more simple.

He said: “I’m really sorry about the lockdown, it’s awful and rubbish, but it’s our only way out of this until the vaccine gets round so please don’t drop your guard. Please, please stick with this because if we do overwhelm the NHS then we are going to be in a much worse position than we are now.

“This is certainly the biggest crisis of our generation, but this country has been through worse, and we can get to the end of it, and we will, but just don’t drop your guard yet.”