Anne Dennis was taken to hospital by her daughter Nicola (not their real names, as they do not wish to be identified) when the 74-year-old began to struggle with the latest in a series of health problems which have beset her since late last year.
After two recent stints on the wards as a result of a previous infection and also a heart attack, Anne’s condition once again began to deteriorate earlier this month.
However, the situation was now complicated by the fact that the mother and daughter knew that they had also contracted Covid - with both of them having had positive lateral flow test results before Anne began to go downhill.
Showing signs of a new chest infection, Anne was advised by the NHS 111 phoneline to attend A&E. Their Covid-positive status meant that they first had to report to a temporary cabin outside the main facility, under strict infection control measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus to other vulnerable people on the hospital's premises.
The pair say that they appreciate the need for ongoing caution as Covid continues to rage - but they were shocked at the arrangements in place for people in their situation.
“Once you tell them that you're positive, they say they will have to try and find some isolation space inside the department,” Nicola explained.
“They said a room had just become available, but that it would need deep cleaning before we could go in it. And then you just stand there, waiting.
“That day (7th April), it was blowing a gale - really cold and with heavy rain. We were under a small gazebo over the door to the cabin, but some of the rain was coming in sideways and it was freezing.
“I asked if we could have a blanket as we were already cold by that point. They came out with two blankets for Mum, but I didn’t have anything.
“Good enough, without us asking, they also brought both of us a cup of tea - so they must have [recognised] it wasn't a great situation.
"But we both felt terribly ill in ourselves ”
Once the isolation room was ready, Anne had blood taken and was X-rayed by a portable device brought to where she was being treated during her four-hour stay.
The results confirmed that she had once again developed a chest infection - and she wonders whether the outdoor wait has stymied what she says has been a slow recovery.
“A week later, I was still absolutely wasted - I don't think it helped me one little bit by being stuck outside.
“I'm 75 in a couple of weeks and I've been ill for five months, so to wait in the cold for that length of time was horrendous. If I'd known that’s what would happen, I wouldn't have gone, I don’t think.
“Nicola took a picture of me all wrapped up while I was there and it looks like a joke - you can't even see my face. But it's a serious issue.”
Anne says that the effects of the cold were compounded by a debilitating condition which means she cannot regulate her body temperature. So in spite of the hospital-provided blankets and five layers of her own clothing, the biting wind still cut through to the bone.
“I have an issue with the thermostat in my body, it can't cope with the cold - and it doesn't make any odds what I put on.
“It's hard to explain that to anybody - if you haven't got it, you don't know what it's like. But let’s just say it added to the flavour of the experience.
“It really was a nightmare for me that day. But I do understand that it’s a horrendously difficult situation for everyone working in the NHS as well - they have been on the frontline all this time,” Anne added.
Nicola shares her mother’s sentiment that individual staff were doing their best for patients - but was nevertheless left questioning the consistency, as well as the adequacy, of the protocol for dealing with Covid-positive patients in A&E.
“They brought Mum a commode to use in the room while she was there, but, as we were leaving, she said she would need the loo again before heading home.
“One of the staff said she could go to any of the hospital's toilets, as long as she had a mask on.
“So I thought to myself, well then why were we left outside when we arrived? It just didn't fit at all.”
Responding to Anne and Nicola’s experience, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH), which runs the Royal Preston, told the Post that the sheer volume of Covid cases in the community means that patients cannot always be brought straight into the necessary isolation facilities.
A spokesperson said: “Covid-19 positive patients visiting our emergency department are asked to isolate from other patients to help keep everyone safe.
“Due to the recent high numbers of positive patients attending A&E, it is simply not possible to always provide an isolation room and therefore temporary arrangements, including sheltered outdoor areas, may be necessary.
“Without clear details, it is difficult to comment on individual cases. Patients who are Covid-19 positive are encouraged to use their isolation room [toilet] facilities and, post-discharge, wait until returning home to reduce the risk of infection to others.”
As the Post reported earlier this month, LTH chief executive Kevin McGee told a recent board meeting that Covid was still stretching hospital services, even though many of those who were positive were now attending hospital for other reasons.
“We still have very strict infection control and prevention procedures throughout the organisation.
“[Covid] has implications about how we actually run the hospital and manage the hospital - and the processes and the capacity that we have,” Mr. McGee said.