The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Treatments for patients with COVID-19

The first thing to say is that we do not have a specific cure for COVID-19.  The only treatment we have is to give the patient what are called supportive cares – treatments to keep the patient going whilst their own immune system tries to fight off the virus. Please be assured that your relative is receiving expert care from our specialist team of doctors and nurses and they are in the best possible place.

For most patients who are really sick with COVID-19 and need to be admitted to critical care, the most immediate effect of the virus is on the lungs.  This means that the lungs don’t work properly and allow enough oxygen to get into the body.  We have two treatments for this.  The first treatment is to give patients lots of oxygen through a mask that is placed over their mouth and nose.  This is sometimes called CPAP (pronounced ‘see-pap’).  The patients are awake whilst they receive this and are able to communicate with the staff looking after them.  They may also be able to use their mobile phones to communicate with you.  For many patients, this is all the treatment they need and in a few days they will be well enough to be discharged to one of our general wards. 

Unfortunately, there are some patients for whom this is not enough.  These patients are very critically ill and may need to go on to our second treatment.   This treatment involves them being put onto a ventilator (sometimes called a life support machine or a respirator).  A ventilator is a machine that breathes for the patient, blowing oxygen into their lungs through a pipe that goes through the mouth into their windpipe. Again, this is supportive therapy – it is not a cure - and we do it in the hope that we can keep the person alive for long enough to allow the lungs to get better.  They are given anaesthetic drugs to keep them asleep and make sure they are comfortable whilst on the ventilator.  

Sadly, we know that there are not many people with this disease who get better once they need to go onto a ventilator.  Some develop kidney failure and may need dialysis.  In other patients, the virus infects the heart and can cause the heart to stop suddenly.  Overall, only 1 in 5 of patients with COVID-19 who go onto a ventilator will survive and these figures are worse in older patients or those with pre-existing medical conditions.  If patients do survive being on the ventilator, they will be in hospital for many weeks.

We know that this is a very worrying and frightening time for you.  Please be assured that we are doing everything possible to help your relative get better and will discuss things in more detail when we ring you each day.