‘The NHS saved my life’: Boris Johnson pays tribute to hospital medics saying ‘I can’t thank them enough’ and friends reveal he came close to death – as coronavirus claims 917 UK lives in 24 hours
- The PM had been expected in hospital three days before he was finally admitted
- His plight was so grave that Cabinet Ministers and aides prayed for him
- Mr Johnson boosted by letters from fiancee including scan of their unborn child
- Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID
Boris Johnson came close to death as he desperately fought coronavirus in an intensive care unit, his friends revealed last night.
After rallying, the Prime Minister told them that he owed his life to the doctors and nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, adding: ‘I can’t thank them enough.’
The Mail on Sunday today reveals the extraordinary battle to save the stricken PM by medics who had been expecting him in hospital three days before he was finally admitted last Sunday.
Boris Johnson came close to death as he desperately fought coronavirus in an intensive care unit, his friends revealed last night. Pictured: Clapping for the NHS out Number 11
At one point, Mr Johnson’s plight was so grave that Cabinet Ministers and aides prayed for him.
While in hospital, Mr Johnson has been boosted by a love letter from his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, which included a scan of their unborn child.
The Prime Minister plans to recuperate at Chequers after his release from hospital but, with a further 979 coronavirus deaths announced yesterday, bringing the total in the UK to 9,937, his allies insist he will control the vital process of when – and how – Britain emerges from the lockdown.
Speaking at the daily press conference yesterday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘It is vital that our Prime Minister gets well. We want him to get better and he needs time and space to rest, recuperate and recover.’
Mr Johnson was boosted by a love letter from his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, which included a scan of their unborn child (pictured together)
The PM’s steady recovery came as fears grew of a surge in deaths. Ministers have been warned that coronavirus is now affecting more than 15 per cent of care homes, with many deaths in the social care sector not included in the current total.
Meanwhile, the Government apologised for a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers after medical groups accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of implying that it had been wasted.
Announcing that 19 NHS workers had died since the Covid-19 outbreak began, Mr Hancock said he didn’t want to put ‘blame on people who have used more PPE than the guidelines suggest because I understand the difficulties in the circumstances.
What I would say it is very important to use the right PPE and not overuse it.’
In separate developments yesterday:
- The Queen stressed the importance of maintaining the coronavirus lockdown, but insisted: ‘Easter isn’t cancelled; indeed, we need Easter as much as ever’;
- Police faced renewed criticism for being heavy-handed as it emerged that 1,084 fines have been issued for breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules;
- Cabinet Ministers are divided between the ‘hawks’ who want Britain to leave lockdown early in May and the ‘doves’ who want to delay lifting the restrictions until the summer;
- This newspaper has found that the laboratory in Wuhan at the centre of scrutiny over Covid-19 carried out research on bats from a cave that scientists believe is the original source of the pandemic;
- A leading Tory MP accused a China-backed company of seeking to exploit the crisis to ‘launch a raid on British technology’;
- A new ‘online school’ is being planned to cater for children facing months out of the classroom as Minister plan a ‘phased return’ for some pupils after half-term;
- Ms Patel said domestic violence had risen by 120 per cent last week, but overall crime was down 21 per cent since the lockdown began;
- John Humphrys, the former presenter of Radio 4’s Today programme, claimed BBC bosses were privately telling interviewers to go easy on Ministers when quizzing them about the virus;
- Former Home Secretary David Blunkett railed against the daily briefings from No10 which he said were ‘little more than a daily Sermon on the Mount’.
Taking questions during her first appearance at the daily virus press conference yesterday, Ms Patel was challenged about the shortage of PPE.
She said: ‘I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that, but at the same time, we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now.
‘It is inevitable that the demand for PPE and the pressures on PPE are going to be exponential. They are going to be incredibly high. And of course we are trying to address that as a Government.’
Her comments came after Mr Hancock was criticised by doctors and nurses for saying that there were enough supplies if they were used sensibly.
A further 979 coronavirus deaths announced yesterday, bringing the total in the UK to 9,937. Pictured: Paramedics taking a patient into St Thomas’ Hospital
Dame Donna Kinnair, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said no piece of PPE could ever be ‘more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life’.
Hinting that Parliament may have to be convened virtually, Ms Patel admitted: ‘There are many discussions and I can’t really elaborate any further on those discussions about how Parliament will resume and function’.
Meanwhile, America reached an unwanted milestone as it became the first country in the world to record more than 2,000 deaths in a single day. Brazil became the first in the southern hemisphere to exceed 1,000 in a 24-hour period.
By contrast, Sweden – which has rejected tough social distancing measures – recorded just 17 new deaths from coronavirus, its lowest daily rise in a fortnight.
Doctors waiting at St Thomas’s hospital for Boris Johnson to arrive only realised he wasn’t coming when they saw him clapping the NHS on TV, reveals HARRY COLE, as he shares the dramatic inside story of the PM’s coronavirus battle
Medics were expecting Boris Johnson to be rushed to hospital three days before he was finally admitted – and only realised that he wasn’t coming when they saw him clapping for the NHS that evening on their television screens.
The doctors at St Thomas’ Hospital in London were wearing full protective clothing on Thursday April 2 after managers warned they could expect Mr Johnson to arrive at short notice.
But then they saw the Prime Minister applauding from the steps of No11 Downing Street at 8pm.
Medical staff at the George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust in Nuneaton sent their well wishes to the Prime Minister
As Mr Johnson continued his recovery last night, friends finally conceded just how desperately ill he had been by the time he was taken into intensive care on Monday.
He was so unwell that he believes he owes his life to the care he received from the NHS.
For days after it was announced on March 27 that the Prime Minister had tested positive for the coronavirus, Mr Johnson’s symptoms were described as ‘mild’.
But after struggling through the 9.15am Covid-19 ‘War Cabinet’ meeting on April 2, the PM conceded that he could not shake his persistent cough and temperature and would not be ending his seven-day isolation as scheduled the next day.
In frank talks with both his doctor and his private secretary, Martin Reynolds, insiders say he agreed to a significantly reduced workload and was sent to his bed.
A Government source described Mr Johnson as ‘resistant’ to the idea of going into hospital for fear of it looking like he was receiving preferential treatment, but Downing Street last night insisted that he acted on the advice of his doctors.
It was agreed on April 2 that he would remain in self- isolation above No11 with his symptoms reviewed on Saturday morning.
However, Ministers, aides and friends now say privately that he should have gone into hospital much earlier. ‘It was clear he was in a terrible state all week,’ said one.
According to NHS sources, the team at St Thomas’ were already ‘scrubbed up and in PPE’ [personal protective equipment] at a secret entrance to the hospital on Thursday evening when they were told that the PM was no longer coming.
Preparations had followed a clearly defined plan created by NHS chiefs after news that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair had been admitted to Hammersmith Hospital with a heart scare in October 2003 was leaked to the media.
The protocol set out how the PM would use a secret entrance and take a designated route along sealed corridors and lifts to a private ‘magic room’ on level 12. A secure computer system would be used to ensure his medical notes were inaccessible to all but a tight group of experts.
By Saturday April 4, the check-up quickly established that Mr Johnson’s condition had worsened. Mr Reynolds ‘cleared the PM’s diary completely’, but by the following afternoon it was clear there was no choice but to take him to hospital.
A source said Mr Johnson was conscious when he arrived, but ‘very, very unwell’.
He was put on oxygen via a tube through his nose within ten minutes of arrival.
Concerned by the possible public reaction to the PM’s incapacitation, Downing Street described his admission as a ‘precautionary step’ for tests, adding that Mr Johnson would be receiving a ministerial red box so he could continue to work from his hospital bed.
In reality, his condition worsened throughout Sunday evening and Monday. An added complication was the poor mobile phone reception at the hospital, coupled with a warning to Mr Johnson not to use the public wi-fi for security reasons.
Sources say engineers were sent to boost the signal in Mr Johnson’s room, but in any event by Monday he was too unwell to even look at his phone or respond to texts and WhatsApp messages.
Despite the upbeat comments from No 10, the ashen-faced appearance of Dominic Raab – who had been asked to deputise for Mr Johnson at the Monday afternoon press briefing – betrayed the mounting concern.
At about 6pm on Monday, shortly after Mr Raab assured the nation that the PM was ‘in good spirits’, Carrie Symonds received the call from her fiance’s doctors that she had been dreading.
Despite the oxygen treatment, she was told that Mr Johnson was not improving and the likelihood of him having to be put on a ventilator in intensive care was quickly growing. It was ominous news.
A study of some 1,400 patients by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that more than half of Covid-19 patients who are admitted to intensive care died.
Anguished, yet prevented from being by his bed, Ms Symonds wrote her husband-to-be a love letter, attaching a scan of their unborn child. Meanwhile, aides and doctors faced the logistical problem of moving the PM to the intensive care unit, which was on a different floor from his room.
A source said transferring such a high-profile patient required a ‘big operation that cannot be done quickly… so the decision was made to move him sooner rather than later’, adding: ‘We don’t want to do this stuff at 2am.’
Back in Downing Street, staff were left in stunned silence by the news.
‘It was terrifying how fast things happened. I couldn’t believe it,’ one senior official said. Having already spoken to the PM, Mr Reynolds alerted Buckingham Palace and Mr Raab was summoned to No10, where he was briefed by Cabinet Office bosses Sir Mark Sedwill and Helen MacNamara on the PM’s condition and on his new duties.
Meanwhile, the PM’s spokesman James Slack prepared a public statement and a BBC camera crew sent to film an address by a visibly shaken Mr Raab.
A conference call was arranged for the Cabinet during which Michael Gove said: ‘I think I speak for everyone when I say our thoughts and prayers are with the Prime Minister.’
An official said: ‘It was one of those nights where all there really was was prayer.’ As Mr Johnson fought for his life on Monday night, a bizarre – and undignified – public relations battle was being played out through the switchboard of St Thomas’ hospital.
‘We had the drug companies contact his doctors at the hospital in London, and they’re talking right now,’ US President Donald Trump told Fox News – wrongly, as it turned out.
The White House had contacted the hospital but, in fact, had been politely directed toward to Foreign Office rather than to Mr Johnson’s team. The Americans were not alone – China was offering drugs as well.
‘The switchboard went into meltdown,’ an NHS source said.
‘First the White House rings and offers to send drugs to treat the PM, then a series of Chinese firms call on behalf of their government also offering to send drugs.’
None of the offers was accepted. ‘We’re confident the Prime Minister is receiving the best possible care from the National Health Service,’ No10 said curtly on Tuesday morning.
While the nation reeled, Mr Johnson had a better night than expected and his temperature began to fall on Tuesday morning.
Messages of support from royalty, celebrities and thousands of public well-wishers were compiled by Ms Symonds and sent to the PM.
They included an image of NHS workers on the Nason Ward at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton posing with a Get Well Soon Boris sign.
Downing Street staff endured a ‘terrible wait’ for twice daily medical updates from the hospital, fed through Ms Symonds.
‘Every day we were waiting to hear from the hospital, hoping for a bit of good news,’ said one senior official.
‘You can’t get the fear out of your head that he could take a turn for the worse.’
Slowly but surely, the PM was ‘going the right way’ during Tuesday and Wednesday, as he responded to the oxygen given to him in intensive care.
However, he endured three long nights before he was well enough to leave the unit on Thursday afternoon.
Abandoning the secrecy in which he had entered the hospital, the PM was described by one hospital insider as ‘euphoric’ and waving at doctors and nurses on his way out of ICU. Incredibly, he again joined in the applause for NHS workers at 8pm on Thursday – this time from his hospital bed.
Mr Johnson has since told friends of the ‘exemplary’ care he has received from doctors and nurses.
‘I can’t thank them enough. I owe them my life,’ he said on Friday. He is continuing his recovery this weekend, helped by home-baked chocolate brownies sent by Ms Symonds.
But he remains weak and will take some weeks to rebuild his strength. No10 aides have provided Mr Johnson with an iPad loaded with his favourite films, but he has spent most of the time sleeping or making short FaceTime video calls to Ms Symonds.
Under doctors’ orders to limit his time on the phone, he has read a thriller dug out by a nurse and stories of Tintin, his childhood favourite, sent by his worried family.
He is expected to recuperate at Chequers, the PM’s Buckinghamshire retreat, with a phased return to work, but is understood to want to oversee the decision on when – and how – to end the lockdown.
Meanwhile, finger-pointing over the timing of Mr Johnson’s admission to hospital has begun.
One friend said last night: ‘Those who care about Boris and have known him for a very long time and could say to him “Mate, you’re unwell you need to look after yourself” have been frozen out by the No10 gang.
‘And it seems they were too frightened to stand up to the PM when he needed advisers the most. ‘That can never be allowed to happen again.’
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