Revealed: How doctors had ‘very little understanding’ when treating UK’s first coronavirus victims from York

Flashback to January: Two women wearing face masks leave the Staycity in Paragon Street, York, where the family had stayed. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
13 Jul 2020 @ 7.04 pm
| Health

A team of infectious diseases consultants who treated the UK’s first coronavirus patients from York have said they had “very little understanding” about what they were dealing with at the time.

Two guests at Staycity on Paragon Street, one a student at the University of York, were taken ill in January and were taken to hospital by paramedics wearing hazmat suits.

The doctors at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said they “didn’t really think much of it” when they received a call from a GP in the city about the patients – two members of the same family who had recently arrived from China – and were not expecting them to test positive for Covid-19.

Speaking at the trust’s virtual annual general meeting, Anda Samson, Patrick Lillie and Nick Easom spoke about their journey since receiving the first patients on January 29 – an event that interrupted a night out to celebrate a colleague’s retirement.

Dr Samson said: “We had received a phone call in the afternoon from a GP in York saying they had some people who had arrived from China and they were showing symptoms that might be consistent with coronavirus, and we’d had a couple of warnings beforehand so we didn’t really think much of it but we said ‘OK, let them come’.”

Dr Lillie said he and Dr Easom returned to the hospital to initially assess three patients – with Dr Easom first having to send a colleague to buy him an electric razor to remove his beard so his PPE would fit properly.

Few cases at the time

The Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne, where the two coronavirus patients were transferred. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Dr Lillie said: “The next day, we’d done all the in-house tests, which were all negative, but we still weren’t anticipating what was to come.

“We’d seen the patients, they were fine.”

In the early hours of the morning, the on-call consultant became the first person outside of London to receive the news that two of the three patients had tested positive.

Dr Easom said: “At this stage, there were less than 10,000 reported cases of coronavirus in the world.

“So we had very little understanding what this was, how infectious it was, what the spectrum of the disease was and what we were dealing with.”

The decision was taken to send the patients to Newcastle, which was part of the national high consequence infectious diseases network.

The team said they informed the wider infection community and the wider NHS about what it was like to admit these patients and how they felt their experience could help with future cases.

Very soon the number of positive Covid-19 began to rise. Dr Lillie added: “It just got mad in terms of the amount of people you were seeing, and when it went to Italy the numbers just went through the roof and it was a proper exponential rise.”