Labouring to breathe, Alan Jackson has just spent his first night in hospital.

The 61-year-old is shocked to find himself in the SATA ward and, while other patients are too unwell to be approached, Alan wants his case to stand as a warning to others.

He had no symptoms, so was surprised to be contacted by Test and Protect and even more surprised when a test came back positive.

Tuesday was his tenth day of isolation and he expected to be back to normal. 

Instead, his condition deteriorated and his worried sister-in-law told him to phone the emergency services.

He said: "I had severe aches in my side, back, head, heaviness in my chest. I couldn't sit, I couldn't lie (down). 


"My sister-in-law said to phone NHS24. But I decided not to do it."

We wait while Alan coughs, catches his breath. 

He adds: "I went for a doze and when I woke up, my breathing, it just wasn't good. 

"I phoned the ambulance and the paramedics came out and checked my blood saturation, which was low, and that's how I ended up in here."

"Here" is the specialist assessment and treatment area of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, until last year the surgical receiving ward.

Now, thanks to the volume of coronavirus patients, the long corridor-like unit, with private rooms off to each side, is where new patients are assessed. 

READ MORE: Vaccine delay concern grows as doctor says staff expected to 'sacrifice health for salary'

Alan, who was otherwise fit and well, is a limousine driver for a funeral company and believes he caught the virus from a colleague.

Others on the ward are too unwell to be interviewed but Alan is determined to speak out.

He added: "It makes you realise that this virus doesn't take any prisoners. No matter how strong you are or what age you are. It will just go for you. 

"If it can find a way in it will go for you.

"And people have to start taking it seriously."


The 30 bedded unit is usually full and, despite the physical and emotional pressures on staff, the ward feels calm and under control. 

SATA is a sea of blue scrubs and blue masks but here and there are bright pops of colour from knitted mask extenders that members of the public donated during last year's wave of support for the NHS.

Nurse Petra Gladwin is in the first year of the job and what a baptism of fire.

Petra qualified in September 2019 and began working on the surgical receiving ward, staying when it was repurposed as the SATA.

"In the start," she says, "I was scared. But if we're all scared then who's going to look after the patients? So we just motivate ourselves and get on with it."


Listening to Petra calmly detail the work of the nurses on her ward, that they stay motivated is a wonder.

With visitors severely limited, nurses are also friend and comforter to their patients. 

And some really need that additional support with frightened patients becoming, at times, extremely distressed.

The volume of people coming in mean there can be times where patients require to be moved but there is nowhere to send them.

READ MORE: Coronavirus Scotland - Palliative care consultant Fiona Finlay speaks of pressures

Petra says the sudden deaths are the most difficult to cope with.

"It is emotional," she says. "You see patients coming in and they are quite unwell with covid but not to the extent of dying.
"Then they just deteriorate and you've got to phone their family members and let them know that this is their end.

"And we have seen that quite a lot. Phoning the family and explaining this has happened is quite distressing because they are not able to see their family members and you're telling them that they are near the end of their life."

Technology helps, with FaceTime calls used to keep patients and family members in touch. 

Among the other innovations hospitals have come up with to keep patients and their families connected is the Give and Go service.

Staffed by volunteers, the drop off point in the main atrium acts as a lifeline between loved ones. 

Family and friends simply hand over items - from the essentials to treats that make hospital life a little easier - and the volunteers safely transfer them to the patient.


In among the bleakness, the service has also provided light relief at times as family members try to sneak in contraband - from cigarettes and alcohol to a 55 inch TV.

Petra is exasperated with people who still don't take the threat of the virus seriously.

She said: "It's sad when you look around and see people who believe that covid is not there. 

"It is real and it's affected family members we have seen. We're overstretched and it's really challenging.

"People are dying in a way that shouldn't be happening.

"I wish people would take it seriously."

Through the double doors - and after a change of mask - is the acute receiving ward where patients who have come in through A&E are assessed and sent to a suitable ward or discharged.

With 24 years experience under her belt, it is no small thing when Heather Scotland says the past year has been the most challenging of her career.

There are a mix of covid and non-covid patients in acute receiving so staff are alert to the importance of PPE.

Cleaning trolleys with fresh masks, gloves and other vital items are dotted along the corridor. 


The pressure at the moment, with the usual winter increase in need and the second wave of Covid-19, is "immense" and evenings are spent collapsed with a cup of tea. 

"You are exhausted," she says, "But at the end of the day you come in to nursing to be able to care for patients.

"You put your uniform on and it's like you take on a whole new persona. You take on the care of your patients and you become secondary to that."

The ward motto is, 'It takes team work to make the dream work,' and the number of thank you cards around the walls make clear the motto is working.

One patient is gravely ill and there is a hush around a closed door. 

A door opens to another room, and an elderly patient insists she wants to go for a walk outside.  

A nurse calmly and gently persuades the woman back in to her room where it's safe. 


Staff, Heather says, are worried about the second wave. They worry about catching the virus and, worse, taking it home to their families.

Staffing pressures are greater now too.

"In the first wave we had additional staffing," she says, "Staff who were brought in from clinics, we had additional students who were on extended placements. 

"We don't have that this time round and we've having to run short.

"So we're having to run that high level of care with reduced support. So it is a lot more challenging."

Heather says more people are presenting with mental health struggles and alcoholism.

She remembers last year's Clap For Carers as a "humbling" experience but wants people to show their support now by following the government's FACTS guidance.

Heather said: "The best way they can support us is by adhering to the guidelines and rules and following the FACTS. 

"That's the best way to establish whether we have that public support.

"But when you are still seeing so many people out when they shouldn't be, we still don't have enough of the support that we need."