The coronavirus crisis continues to be one of the greatest challenges most of us are ever likely to face.

It’s been more than two months since the country first went into lockdown, and although rules were relaxed in England just under two weeks ago, it hasn’t been lifted completely and life hasn’t gone back to normal. It won’t for some time.

More people are going about their business and the roads and streets are busier.

But the virus is still present. Over the bank holiday weekend, health chiefs asked the public to think twice before travelling unnecessarily to help protect the NHS and save lives.

In Dorset, 145 patients have died at the county's hospitals; 23 at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester.

Covid-19 is still a challenge, and we meet all those at DCH - doctors, nurses, cleaners, porters and volunteers - who are on the front line battling the biggest health crisis in recent times.

At the start of the pandemic, the hospital's emergency department had to split what it says was an already small department into two separate departments to enable staff to treat any suspected positive patients separately - an enormous effort, says Matron Clare Turnbull.

“The list of those involved in making this happen was vast and we can’t thank everyone enough for helping us make these huge changes and in such a short space of time," she said. “The team has embraced every change and challenge we have faced and have all pulled together to support each other and they continue to do so every day.

“I am very proud of them all and cannot thank them enough for stepping up and taking on this challenge. We have had to work in such different ways, yet the team have been professional and simply inspiring."

In intensive care, doctors and nurses have become friends and family to patients who are not allowed to have visitors.

Rachel Cookson, advanced nurse practitioner in ITU, says there have been many challenges.

"In preparation for coronavirus we firstly increased our critical care bed capacity, expanding into other areas of the hospital, and increased our workforce to ensure we were able to continue to serve our community without compromising standards.

Dorset Echo:

  • The critical care unit appealing for donations for the DCH Covid appeal

“There have been many challenges throughout this time with research, guidance and policy changing minute by minute. The hard work, professionalism, dedication and resilience of our team continue, despite the ongoing challenges this pandemic presents.”

With visiting hours suspended, the trust's digital team set up a dedicated email address for families, carers and friends of patients to be able to keep in touch during their admission. Inpatients were also able to connect with loved ones via a free video app with the trust supplying iPads to those patients who did not have their own device.

It's been well-documented that cleanliness and managing infection control are essential to stopping the spread of coronavirus.

Dorset Echo:

  • DCH's team of porters 

Emma Hoyle, associate director of infection prevention and control at DCH, says it's been an 'incredibly busy time' for the department.

“We started planning for the pandemic in January 2020, alongside all divisions and departments in the trust," she said. “The evolution of the virus nationally has meant guidance and policies needed updating daily and sometime hourly. Throughout the pandemic staff have been trained and supported by the IPC team.

“As the pandemic processes and time moves on, we are now planning on how services will look over the next few months to ensure patients and staff safety is maintained.

“I am very proud of my team who have gone above and beyond to support the trust.”

On respiratory ward Moreton, Sister Lynn Paterson says staff have been doing an ‘absolutely incredible job’ for Covid positive patients requiring specialist respiratory care.

Dorset Echo:

  • Moreton Ward at DCH

“It has been a challenging time in healthcare,” she said. “We have all had to learn and adapt on an ongoing basis.

“The correct usage of PPE has been of upmost importance to protect both our patients and staff.

“We have introduced changes in the ward such as yellow caution signs in some areas which warn staff that there is a maximum number that can enter that zone at one time to help reduce risk.

“We have also been encouraging social distancing measures wherever possible to also help reduce the risk. We are a strong and dedicated team and together we will get through this.”

Coping well with PPE

The virus has presented a big challenge for DCH’s procurement and logistics team. Although PPE shortages have been reported nationally, the hospital has coped well.

Head of department Louise Brereton said the teams were ‘used to working quietly in the background’ ensuring stock of supplies were available to hospital staff when needed in order to treat patients. But the coronavirus pandemic has meant a ‘radical change’ in the way the teams now work and the way their work is seen by others.

“Both teams had to promptly react to a rapidly changing environment and each day presented new hurdles and challenges,’ she said. “Initial stocks of PPE were quickly secured and daily stock checks continue to be carried out to ensure we are not going to face a shortage.

Dorset Echo:

  • DCH's procurement team handling PPE

“Since the end of March, the logistics team have redirected their effort to focus on key departments and wards who have become busier treating Covid positive patients. The team now operate 24/7 to ensure deliveries can be accepted at any time, and PPE can be distributed when needed.

“From this pandemic we have learnt that nothing is impossible, we can rise to a challenge and our efforts are worthwhile.”

Trial exploring potential drug treatments for the virus

The research and innovation department at DCH has responded to the challenge presented by coronavirus.

In March, the department recruited the first two patients in Wessex to trial exploring potential drug treatments for the virus.

The research trial, known as Recovery, aims to compare several different treatments that may be useful for patients with Covid-19. It has received funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and has been classed as an urgent public health research study, with all NHS trusts in England asked to support.

Sarah Williams, lead research nurse at DCH, was part of the team that helped recruit the first two participants.

She said: “This shows what you can achieve when people are engaged and see the value of research. The research team has now recruited highest proportion of potential participants in England to the Covid-19 Recovery trial. It is hoped that this work will contribute to the national and international knowledge base to combat the virus."

Dr Zoë Sheppard, head of research, added: “I am pleased to see that research is at the forefront of the international agenda and I am immensely proud of the way the department has pulled together to drive this fundamental research forward here in Dorset – thank you to everyone involved.”

Dedicated team of volunteers

The volunteer service at DCH has undergone some huge changes to support the hospital during the coronavirus outbreak.

DCH has approximately 250 volunteers, however, many have had to self-isolate under government guidance and the majority of roles have been suspended to help reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus.

The hospital has therefore had a small but very dedicated team of volunteers to support the staff at this challenging time.

The team is responsible for ensuring face masks are packed and distributed twice daily throughout the hospital to guarantee staff have enough masks for their shift. They have also been responsible for coordinating and distributing the generous donations the Trust is receiving from businesses and the community. In addition, the team is also supporting the pharmacy department with their home delivery service.

DCH's volunteer co-ordinator, Hannah Robinson, said: “Our volunteer team has just been incredible.

“They are giving up their time to help support the entire organisation and have remained flexible, patient and very committed to simply getting stuck into the role and doing what is needed. They are a true example of community spirit.

“Behind the scenes we also have a volunteer writing thank you letters to those who have donated to the trust and others that are sending in activities such as quizzes and word searches for patients to help keep them stimulated whilst visiting is suspended.

Dorset Echo:

  • Volunteers receiving donations on Easter Sunday

“We have had a lot of support from the community wishing to volunteer at DCH which is fantastic and we look forward to welcoming them in the future.”

Every Thursday since the pandemic began, the public has took to doorsteps, balconies and gardens to Clap for our Cares in appreciation of all key workers.

Its founder has suggested this week should be the last - so why not give an extra loud cheer.