COVID-19: Melbourne ICU shows what coronavirus will do to New Zealand hospitals

One of Australia's intensive care units has opened up to Newshub to show New Zealanders what COVID-19 will do to our hospitals.

A top doctor and nurse have spoken from their shift on Monday with a warning - get ready for a surge of the sickest patients you have ever seen.

Professor Daryl Jones is one of the leading ICU doctors in Melbourne. He took us inside the Austin Hospital ICU to show Kiwis what is coming as more and more patients arrive.

"They are very short of breath when they first come into us, struggling to breath and needing a lot of oxygen," he says.

"These are some of the sickest patients I have seen in 22 years of working in the ICU."

Today, New Zealand has 50 people in hospital with COVID and just 4 in ICU - nothing compared with Melbourne and the state of Victoria.

"At the moment we've got about 800 people in hospital, 150 in ICU," Prof Jones says.

COVID-19: Melbourne ICU shows what coronavirus will do to New Zealand hospitals

In the ICU, ventilation is key to saving lives.

"Many of them have to have a full anaesthetic, be put off to sleep and have a breathing tube inserted in their windpipe," he adds.

"When we put people off to sleep that goes into someone's windpipe. You can see how long it it is. It goes in the mouth and from there down will be in the patient's windpipe."

Many patients are even requiring tracheostomy.

"That is basically a surgical procedure where you put a breathing pipe in the neck, and instead of going through the tube and the windpipe it goes through the neck below the vocal cords," Prof Jones says.

"They are getting clots in their lungs and inflammation and fibrosis of their lungs. Some of these patients will never recover back to normal, Paddy. Even if they survive, they are never going to be normal again. And they will take months to rehab."

COVID-19: Melbourne ICU shows what coronavirus will do to New Zealand hospitals

Michelle Baxter is one of the top nurses. She's originally from Greymouth in the South Island.

"The COVID-19 patients that come in are extremely sick," she says.

"One of the challenges we are experiencing is these patients often need to be 'proned', that is to help with their breathing and it is very labour intensive."

'Proning' is an example of why ICUs need to be staffed so high - it means putting patients prone on their stomach.

"The lungs in your back collapse. So what we need to do is put the patents on their tummy," Prof Jones says. "They are on their stomach for 12-16 hours a day."

It isn't just the elderly being hospitalised. Young people are coming into the ICU too.

"Many of them are lamenting and remorseful that they never got vaccinated. Patients who are about to go on a ventilator are begging to be vaccinated," Prof Jones says.

"We are seeing young people who potentially were misfed wrong information and perhaps tried to source the wrong information, and they are going to regret this for the rest of their lives."

COVID-19: Melbourne ICU shows what coronavirus will do to New Zealand hospitals

Australia has a big head start with ICU capacity. It has 8.9 ICU beds for every 100,000 people while New Zealand has 4.6 ICU beds for every 100,000 people. But even then it's forced changes.

"We have had to make substantial changes and modifications, we have had to put elective surgery on hold for example," Prof Jones says.

The pair have a message to Kiwis - be prepared.

"My message to everybody back at home is please get vaccinated," Baxter says.

"Please get vaccinated. We are not making this up," Prof Jones says.

This is the reality. This is what is coming to our ICUs.