A year like no other: KGH's traumatic battle with Covid
A total of 489 Covid patients have died there
Today (Tuesday) marks one year since the nation first went into lockdown - but by then the battle against Covid-19 at Kettering General Hospital had already started.
In the early stages of the pandemic the number of Covid patients there was never confirmed but the reality hit home on March 16, just two weeks after the county's first confirmed case.
Craig Ruston became KGH's first Covid victim, just two years after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 42. At the time he was believed to be the UK's youngest Covid victim.
Just over a year later and the Rothwell Road's sobering coronavirus death toll stands at 489, and is still rising albeit slowly.
Kettering General Hospital’s chief executive, Deborah Needham, said: “A year has now passed since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Northamptonshire and it is timely for us to reflect on what that has meant and what we all still need to do to stay safe.
“I think it is important for people to understand just how much work has been done by the staff at our hospital in order to support and care for those with the virus and to keep other hospital patients and staff safe. First of all we had to redesign the way we work in almost every area. For example - to meet the projected surge in seriously ill Covid patients - we had to double the size of our intensive care unit and carry out structural changes across the trust in readiness for the first wave peak.
“Our staff faced challenges like being redeployed to deliver direct hands-on care, learning a host of new protocols and procedures, wearing large amounts of restrictive personal protective equipment and having to deal with serious illness and death on a daily basis.
“To prevent the spread of Covid-19 we introduced testing of all patients who need to be admitted to hospital and continue to test them throughout their stay. We also test staff regularly and can turn results around on the same day."
Staff testing very quickly became crucial - with the virus forcing hundreds to self-isolate within weeks of the lockdown - as wards and departments were redesigned to help with social distancing.
After the first death on March 16, the number of Covid-19 deaths at the hospital increased rapidly and within 43 days the total had passed the 100 mark.
Between April 11 and May 12, there was at least one death every single day and in total, 97 people died at KGH over that period.
Cases dropped over the summer, and so did deaths. When we first looked back in the summer at how the pandemic unfolded, the hospital went a whole week with no deaths between June 27 and July 3 - the first time this had happened since the death on March 16.
But as the second wave hit later in 2020, the hospital came under increasing pressure.
By Christmas Eve, they were caring for 73 Covid patients and the hospital moved to its highest alert level. Weeks later that number was 174.
In January, we took a look at the sobering reality of the 'living nightmare' inside their intensive care unit. Some staff were so traumatised they needed counselling.
At one point cases were so high children were moved from the Skylark Ward to another area of the hospital to free up beds for Covid patients. At the time the hospital also said it couldn't rule out a move to Northampton if cases continued to rise.
Later that month we also revealed that more than 400 patients caught Covid while they were in KGH or NGH since the pandemic began.
The Kettering hospital's number of Covid inpatients and deaths is now falling, with six deaths in the past 15 days.
But Ms Needham said everybody must still play their part to make sure things don't deteriorate again.
She said: “Whilst the number of patients with Covid at the hospital has reduced we must all remember the pandemic is not over and local rates of the virus remain high. We all still have our own part to play to protect ourselves, families and friends from an illness which can be very severe.
“This means sticking to the lockdown rules, being always aware of hands, face, and space, and limiting contact with others except where absolutely essential.”
While much of the focus has been on the number of cases and deaths, there have been positive stories to come from the hospital since the pandemic began.
A total of 7,000 members of staff there have now had a Covid vaccine.
One of those - intensive care matron Jo Snow - was made an MBE in the New Year Honours list for her incredible frontline work.
And staff have been boosted by hundreds of thousands of donations of meals, food and even PPE early on from kind-hearted members of the public.
Ms Needham added: “Our staff have worked hard and been under tremendous physical and emotional pressure during the pandemic, with many going above and beyond for both patients and each other.
“We have looked after our staff with a variety of support services and places where they can decompress and talk about the stresses they are facing.
"And we were flooded with more than a quarter of a million donations from the local community which have been very much appreciated."