The ward at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton was built from scratch in nine weeks last year to deal with patients with severe breathing difficulties, the majority of whom had Covid.
Nurses and support staff have worked with up to 27 patients at a time on the busy ward, with some staff redeployed there from other areas of the hospital.
They describe the work as being “mentally draining” and have spoken of breaking down in tears in the staff room when patients don’t pull through.
Patients in the ward are not on ventilators but require support with breathing via what is known as a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device.
Kim Murphy, a practice education facilitator who has worked on the ward as a sister, explained the heavy toll on staff and said she was proud of how they had risen to the challenge.
She told a meeting of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust board: “A big thing for the staff on there has been how physically and mentally draining it has been at times.
“There have been some staff nurses who have gone home – myself being one of them – where we’ve cried.
“It is mentally exhausting. These patients are very poorly. They are very acute when they come to us.
“We have transfers from ITU [intensive care] and if they have got no beds on ITU, they would come to us for a CPAP trial.
“How these staff have had to adapt very quickly, hats off to them. They provide excellent care and are so motivated.”
She said she was proud of how the staff had worked as a team, and spoke of the heartbreak when patients they had got to know died.
“I’m not going to paint that it’s been all roses because it’s not,” she added.
“There have been times when staff have been exhausted, they have gone in the staff room crying.”
The meeting also heard that there had been issues with facilities in the ward, including the lack of a “relatives’ room” where staff could speak with families.
Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Odum said there had been “a lot of lives saved” as a result of the work in the ward.
“There has been no doubt it has been a remarkable development during the course of this coronavirus pandemic,” he added.
Trust Chief Executive David Loughton also hailed the work of staff on the ward and marked nearly one year since the first Covid death at New Cross with a minute’s silence.
He said: “We could not have envisaged then what was going to happen, or the scale of death that we have seen.
"Nobody but nobody went into nursing, medicine or joined the NHS to deal with death on this scale. It’s been truly shocking.”