St James's Hospital in Dublin recorded 79 deaths related to Covid-19 in the first six months of this year, data provided to RTÉ Investigates shows.

RTÉ was given exclusive behind the scenes access to the Dublin hospital for a documentary series looking at Ireland's frontline battle with Covid-19.

Spike in the number of deaths

As part of this project, St James's Hospital also provided RTÉ with extensive data sets, indicating how activity in the hospital has changed dramatically because of the pandemic.

One of the most striking examples of the impact of Covid-19 on the hospital is the increase in the number of deaths recorded.

From early January to the end of May 2019, on average, there were 14 deaths per week recorded at the hospital. For the same period this year, however, the weekly average number of deaths recorded was around 18.

'The calm before the storm'

On 29 February, the first Covid-19 case in Ireland was confirmed.

The first confirmed case in St James's Hospital occurred just over a week later, on 11 March.

By 17 March – the same day Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the nation in a special televised address warning that "this is the calm before the storm, before the surge" – there were just eight Covid-19 patients in the hospital.

But by the end of that month, the figure had increased substantially, rising to 90 Covid-19 patients, and past 100 in early April.

Later in April, as Ireland's lockdown began to slow the spread of the virus, the number of Covid-19 patients at St James's started to decrease and fell below 50 from 11 May onwards. By 7 June, there were just two Covid-19 patients being cared for at the hospital.

The pandemic at its height

The Covid-19 pandemic reached its height in St James's during the first two weeks of April.

The week ending 5 April 2020, saw the Dublin hospital record 17 Covid-19 related deaths.

The following week, St James's recorded a total of 22 deaths where patients had tested positive for Covid-19, as well as nine other non-Covid-19 deaths - a total of 31 deaths.

This was the highest number of weekly deaths recorded in the hospital during the first half of 2020 and represents a threefold increase on the same period in April 2019, when there were just ten deaths recorded in the hospital.

Furthermore, those two weeks in early April were the only weeks in which the hospital saw weekly Covid-19 deaths run into double digits.

Image - A nurse checks on a patient in the intensive care unit

A nurse checks on a patient in the intensive care unit

'The first few weeks were manic'

RTÉ Investigates spoke with several staff members at St James's Hospital about their recollections of that frantic period.

"The first few weeks were just absolutely manic," said Melissa O'Brien, a senior staff nurse at the hospital. "I couldn't even describe it to you, you didn't have time to think. The way Covid hits you, it's so fast."

Her nurse colleague, Annie Foy, described the trauma experienced by healthcare staff during that time.

"It was quite busy, patients were getting very sick," she recalled.

"Lots of patients were dying. You try not to take stuff home with you, but you really couldn't. You were going home thinking, 'Could you have done better and what more could you have done?'"

Image - Staff reported treating Covid patients of all age groups

Staff reported treating Covid patients of all age groups

'We had patients of all age groups'

Of the 79 Covid-19 related deaths recorded in the hospital between March and May of this year, the median age was 81 – that is the middle point in a list of ages that divides the list in equal halves. Males made up 57% of the deaths and females, 43%.

The oldest person to die after testing positive for Covid-19 at St James's Hospital was a 100-year-old woman, while the youngest was a 40-year-old woman.

This patient was one of four Covid-19 related deaths under the age of 60 to take place at the hospital.

But staff nurse Annie Foy told RTÉ Investigates that the hospital treated Covid-19 patients "of all age groups".

"The youngest patient we had here was a 26-year-old," she said. "He was a young guy, but he was quite unwell. He had a lot of oxygen requirements. When you see someone who's young, and with no history - when they become unwell, that's very frightening."

RTÉ Investigates: Inside Ireland's Covid Battle

This story accompanies new documentaries from RTÉ Investigates going behind the scenes at St James's Hospital as it fights against Covid-19.

Read more stories from this series:
RTÉ Investigates: Inside Ireland's Covid Battle
Behind the Mask
The last line of defence: Inside St James's ICU
A mirror to society: the Emergency Dept. at St James's during Covid
'The burden of death': Covid Inpatients at St James's

'Inside Ireland's Covid Battle' watch now on the RTÉ Player

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