Fighting for life on the UK's virus frontline

''It's tough, it's draining, it's draining physically, it's draining mentally, the decisions that we're having to make on people, decisions that we're having to make on people that ordinarily would survive are not surviving the coronavirus.''

At Milton Keynes University Hospital, northwest of London it's a battle between life and death.

The latest COVID-19 wave tearing through the UK hit the hospital with even more force than the first, as younger patients fill its wards and fewer of the sickest people respond to treatment.

68-year-old Stephen Marshall initially tested negative for COVID-19 following a recent operation on his back.

He thought he just had a cold, now he's on oxygen.

“I couldn't get up the stairs without puffing and panting couldn’t get to the kitchen without puffing and panting. Didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to drink. After a week I just called up the ambulance and here I am, straight in.”

Staff like Joy Halliday, a consultant in intensive care and acute medicine, are grappling with the strain of exhaustion and loss.

She's caring for 51-year-old supermarket worker Victorita.

She was put on oxygen immediately.

''So we're getting a lot more people coming into hospital, a lot younger and a lot fitter. They're getting steroids and Remdesevir. But even despite that Victorita who's young and fit and fifty one still ended up needing to go on to a non-invasive ventilator.''

The youngest person being ventilated in the hospital is only 28.

Education minister Gavin Williamson offered some hope on Thursday, saying the national lockdown is having some impact in reducing pressure on the National Health Service, despitea grim record number of deaths Wednesday (January 21).

But for frontline workers like the clinical director Wassim Shamsuddin, the battle is far from over.

“Intensive care hospitals are meant to be a place where we treat patients and make them better. You know, I think the difficulty is here that even though we try our best and we, you know, throw everything at the patients, including the kitchen sink, it just doesn't seem to be working. And so I think, yes, it does get to us. Yes, I think long term staff will have to come to terms with this pandemic. And I think certainly we'll probably see staff leaving the NHS because of what they've experienced.”