ICU doctor's key message as NSW hospitals fill up with Covid patients

·News Reporter
·3-min read

A Sydney ICU doctor has offered insight into how NSW hospitals are managing their Covid-19 patients as cases continue to soar.

NSW reported 283 new locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Monday.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital ICU manager Richard Totaro told reporters during the daily Covid briefing patients in intensive care in some cases have been “physically fit and well” with no underlying health conditions.

“These are really sick patients,” Dr Totaro said on Monday of those hospitalised with Covid.

“So what we want to do is take these patients who are really sick, and stop having them.

“We want to stop people getting sick and ending up in ICU.

Intensive Care specialist Dr Richard Totaro joins NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian during a COVID-19 update in Sydney.
Intensive Care specialist Dr Richard Totaro has encouraged people to get vaccinated explaining how the ICU is not designed for Covid-19 patients. Source: AAP

There is really good evidence from all over the world that the vaccinations that we have available to us, stop people needing to come into hospital.Dr Richard Totaro

“Almost all the hospitalisation goes away, almost all the need for ICU goes away and almost all the death goes away once people have been vaccinated properly and that is what we want to see.”

No ICU Covid patients are fully vaccinated

Currently, 349 people are in NSW hospitals with coronavirus, with 67 of those in intensive care. Of the 67 in the ICU, 29 require ventilation.

  • 67 people in ICUs in NSW with Covid-19

  • No fully vaccinated people in ICU

  • NSW has issued 4.4 million vaccine doses

Dr Totaro said the “striking thing” is no one in the ICU has had both of their vaccinations.

He said Covid patients also spend longer in the ICU than patients with other illnesses.

“Normally patients in the ICU are there for three or four days on average,” he said.

“If you are in the ICU, you are on life support and you are on dialysis, you stay in the ICU somewhere around five weeks.”

A supplied image of ICU Registered Nurse Shaunagh Whelan (right) caring for a COVID-19 positive patient in the ICU of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.
An ICU nurse cares for a Covid-19 positive patient at Sydney's St Vincent’s Hospital. Source: AAP

Dr Totaro said this causes issues because the ICU is designed to be transient – patients come in with a serious illness, are treated and then leave within days but Covid patients come in and “slow everything down” and “it makes the unit slowly fill up”.

He said it is not so much the number of hospital beds taken up, but the number of staff tied up in caring for Covid patients.

Covid has also changed how doctors deal with families. Because of social distancing and concerns about transmission, Dr Totaro said doctors cannot speak with families in person about their loved ones.

“You can't do face-to-face meetings, we have to do this digitally (and) it adds a layer of complexity,” he said.

Doctor's 'get vaxxed' message circulates online

On Twitter, people praised Dr Totaro for speaking and hoped people understood his message.

“Dr Richard Totaro from RPA ICU rightly talking up vaccination — so he never gets to look after you,” one man tweeted.

“But also, even if ICU beds aren’t under stress, there are knock-on capacity issues for general medical care. Get vaxxed.”

A couple walk past signs of AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines outside a doctor’s surgery in the lower north shore suburb of Lane Cove in Sydney.
Signs outside a GP clinic in Lane Cove encourage people to get vaccinated. Source: AAP

Another man tweeted Dr Totaro “was great” while others also talked up getting the jab.

“We need to do our bit as a community to get these people back to doing their usual duties as soon as possible,” another man tweeted.

In total, NSW Health has issued more than 1.6 million vaccine doses with a total of more than 4.4 million delivered by both the health department, GPs and pharmacies as of Saturday.

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