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Outgoing hospital chief reflects on… when dentists had to deliver babies

'The only way out is a vaccine', says UCLH chief exec at AGM

19 November, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Professor Marcel Levi being interviewed by the BBC’S Fergus Walsh earlier in the pandemic crisis

DENTISTS were sent to help deliver babies and surgeons dispatched to intensive care during the coronavirus fightback at University College London Hospital, its outgoing chief executive has recalled in a speech.

Professor Marcel Levi, who is due to leave the trust in April, said in an online presentation to members how proud he was at the way the hospital had responded when Covid-19 “turned the world upside down”.

He said: “At first it seemed very far away. The Chinese approach seemed strange, not something that would affect us. “In the end, our hospitals’ intensive care units were overrun by very sick people – many of whom did not survive.”

He added: “We had no idea what treatments might work. “We saw the severity of the pneumonia, the really profound hypoxia, this incredible inflammatory response that was attacking the lungs, and that some patients were developing thrombosis in their veins. “We noticed there were more men than women. The people who got really ill were older. More had diabetes or obesity, and came from BAME communities.”

He praised staff who had been “confronted with work they wouldn’t normally be doing”, adding: “Dentists were helping with delivery of babies. There were surgeons helping out on intensive care. Allergy nurses [were} doing virus swabbing. There was fantastic procurement from our team to keep stores of PPE at the right levels.

“Admin staff took on new support roles. It really was UCLH at its best. I am particularly proud of how we dealt with sick people.”

Prof Levi said he had been struck by how such a tiny microorganism as the virus could have such a huge global impact.

He said: “We are talking about something tiny, one 10th of thousands of a millimetre, with just 15 genes – compared to the 30,000 genes in humans. Nevertheless, this microorganism can turn the world upside down.”

Prof Levi spoke about a breathing device constructed with Formula 1 engineers that “was deployed and saved lives at UCLH” before being “cascaded to the NHS and then around the world”.  He said much work was being done on hospital-acquired infections but that “the only way out is a vaccine”.

The online Annual Members’ Meeting heard high praise for Prof Levi, who is leaving for a government advisory role in the Netherlands.

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