"No one will ever forget this experience" – Professor David Lomas
Jun 10, 2020
Professor David Lomas, BHF Trustee, has been volunteering on the NHS frontline and supporting the national effort against coronavirus (Covid -19). The BHF caught up with him to find out more about his Covid-19 experiences.
Professor Lomas joined the BHF’s Board of Trustees in 2016. As the head of the largest grouping of biomedical scientists in Europe and a practising respiratory physician, he brings with him the experience of running a huge science operation and works with the NHS and the government.
Professor Lomas regularly works in University College London Hospital (UCLH) as a respiratory physician and was on clinical service when the first covid-19 patients started to arrive at the hospital. In an article he wrote for the Guardian, Professor Lomas talks about the beginning of the pandemic. He says, “My first week working in the ward was unremarkable. But by week two everything had changed. The ward became eerily quiet. Very few patients were referred to the respiratory team as we prepared for the expected influx of patients infected with the Covid-19 virus.”
Helping those on the NHS frontline
Since those first two weeks Professor Lomas has continued to go back and help the NHS frontline. During the height of the pandemic he worked on the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) ward which is one step below intensive care. The use of CPAP allows doctors to deliver a higher concentration of oxygen to the body by having a continuous pressure that splints the airways open. This reduces the need for a patient to have invasive procedures like a ventilator or tracheostomy. “The first time you walk across a line that says “do not enter without full PPE” is a bit scary, so I was apprehensive about it,” said Professor Lomas.
“The patients were very poorly but the nurses, doctors and support staff were superb. We had brilliant people from different departments all working together trying to do the right thing and who were under a huge amount of pressure. No one will ever forget this experience, the intensity, the excitement, the apprehension, the feeling that you really were doing something very different.”
Fast forward two months and the hospital admission levels in London for acute Covid-19 infections are reducing. In the CPAP ward Professor Lomas is now focusing on rehabilitating patients who have come from the ICU. He says, “my job now is to look after those who have been taken off ventilators. We’re taking out tubes and catheters, stopping drugs and getting people mobilised. We’re trying to get people back to normality.
“Compared to the height of the pandemic it’s very different and quite remarkable because it’s mundane by comparison. It’s a different job, we’re rehabilitating and getting people going rather than trying to stop patients with the infection from getting worse.”
At the same time as volunteering for the NHS front line Professor Lomas also led UCL’s initiative called ‘Contribution to the National Effort’. As part of this Professor Lomas encouraged his staff and students to volunteer for the NHS and donated 16 PCR machines to the national Milton Keynes testing centre to help test for Covid-19 in patients. He was also intimately involved with developing a new CPAP breathing device to help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care.
Together with UCL colleagues from Mechanical Engineering, Critical Care Consultants and the Mercedes Formula 1 team, Professor Lomas helped the team develop and adapt an existing Whisperflow CPAP device for use on Covid-19 patients. Once the team had built a prototype, he was able to use his government contacts to fast track the approval and commission of these new CPAP breathing devices. Professor Lomas said, “within 100 hours it went from an idea to a prototype. And from there it only took 15 days to go from the time of commissioning to 10,000 devices. Mercedes made more than 1,000 devices a day, it was remarkable.”
Useful learnings must be noted from the pandemic
Asked if anything has surprised him during his Covid-19 experiences Professor Lomas said, “What’s been a real delight is the ‘can do’ attitude and the way that everyone’s adapted to a different world, we can’t go back to where we were before, there has to be learnings from this, and I think there will be.
The biggest thing that stands out most for me is the reaction of people, how they all came together and got on with the job at hand. And also the way the NHS system as a whole has changed so dramatically almost over-night in such a positive way.”