Doctors from the UK who have been working at a hospital in the central Gaza Strip have expressed their “deep concern” for patients and staff remaining there.
The fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas has reportedly intensified in nearby areas.
According to Deborah Harrington, an obstetrician at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, the ongoing fighting has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of staff available to work at the facility in the past two weeks.
Meanwhile, she mentioned that the hospital continues to provide daily treatment to around 600 to 700 patients, while also serving as a temporary shelter for numerous displaced individuals in the area.
“For the people living in Middle Gaza, the situation will be a complete disaster due to the lack of healthcare staff,” expressed surgeon Nick Maynard, a member of the team, in an interview with the BBC.
When questioned about the reports, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) informed the BBC that the forces in the vicinity are approximately 1.5km (0.9 miles) away and there is no ongoing activity in that area.
Hospitals receive special protection under international humanitarian law. It is crucial to prioritise the safety and well-being of patients, medical staff, and other civilians during any military operation conducted near hospitals.
MAP and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) recently made an announcement regarding their staff having to withdraw and cease activities due to the escalating Israeli military presence around the al-Aqsa Hospital.
The director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed concern over reports of escalating hostilities and evacuation orders near the crucial al-Aqsa hospital. These developments have resulted in the displacement of over 600 patients and a majority of healthcare workers, according to the facility’s director.
He emphasised the significance of al-Aqsa, highlighting its crucial role as a vital hospital in Gaza’s Middle Area. He stressed the importance of ensuring its continued operation and safeguarding it to provide essential lifesaving services.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to allow any more deterioration of its functionality – especially considering the immense trauma, injury, and humanitarian suffering involved. Such a course of action would be morally and medically outrageous,” he cautioned.
Speaking to the BBC from Cairo airport, Mr Maynard, a senior surgeon and clinical lead with MAP who worked at al-Aqsa’s surgical unit for two weeks, said he and his team were instructed to leave Gaza last Friday.
“I was in the middle of a challenging surgical procedure when I received shocking news. After completing my work in the operating room, I stepped out to discover that a devastating incident had occurred in the intensive care unit (ICU).” He stated, “We were instructed to vacate the premises.”
According to two other doctors, they were informed about an incident at the ICU and later came across pictures on social media showing a bullet lodged in the wall of the ICU building. However, they did not personally witness the incident.
The BBC could not confirm the reports. When questioned about the incident, the IDF stated that they had no knowledge of an air strike related to the specific incident.
Another doctor assigned to al-Aqsa with MAP, James Smith, informed the BBC that he had witnessed the sound of gunfire on multiple occasions.
“I want to emphasise that the sound could be heard from a distance, perhaps 1km or 2km (0.6-1.2 miles) away,” he mentioned, noting that it would occasionally reach the hospital courtyard.
There were reports of shelling near the hospital on Tuesday, according to the UN.
According to the health ministry in Gaza, there were 57 fatalities and 65 individuals who were injured and brought to al-Aqsa hospital within the last day. However, no additional information was provided.
The BBC has confirmed the authenticity of footage that has been circulating on social media. The videos show plumes of smoke and the sound of gunshots in the vicinity. However, it has not been possible to determine the source of the shots or the individuals responsible.
Images shared on social media displayed leaflets that seemed to have been dropped by the IDF. These leaflets cautioned residents in multiple neighbourhoods to the north that they were now in a “dangerous combat zone” and urged them to evacuate immediately for their own well-being. They omitted the vicinity of al-Aqsa hospital from their coverage.
The doctors interviewed by the BBC also mentioned being informed about the leaflets, although they had not personally seen them.
According to Sean Casey, a WHO emergency medical teams co-ordinator who recently visited al-Aqsa hospital, the facility is currently in close proximity to an evacuation zone.
The IDF stated that they had not given any specific evacuation notice to al-Aqsa.
According to Dr. Harrington, there have been unfortunate incidents in the past two weeks at al-Aqsa’s emergency room. Tragically, two nurses lost their lives due to the ongoing fighting. Additionally, another staff member, who had already been displaced once, had her house bombed.
According to Dr Smith, numerous healthcare workers in Palestine have expressed concerns about the safety of returning to the hospital.
“Definitely, there are individuals I’ve been in contact with who haven’t returned since Friday.”
He mentioned that he and his colleagues continue to have concerns for those who are still in the hospital.
“There are numerous individuals who are unable to move, including the elderly, people with disabilities, patients on the neo-natal unit, individuals recovering from surgery, and a large number of internally displaced people residing within or near the hospital.”
Significant number of severe injuries
The details and image below may be distressing to some individuals. The text vividly portrays the tragic injuries sustained by children who were brought to the hospital.
The three doctors from the UK described the injuries and conditions inside al-Aqsa hospital as extremely distressing and difficult.
“We had no running water in theatres, so we had no ability to scrub up and wash,” Mr. Maynard mentioned regarding the surgical unit. “Before performing the procedure, we were required to use alcohol gel.”
“In theatres, we faced a challenge of not having drapes to cover the patients. As a result, we had to come up with makeshift gowns to ensure the patients remained sterile and clean.”
“Instruments were scarce, with a severe shortage of sutures for stitching,” he added.
Reflecting on the experience of working in the emergency room, Dr. Harrington described the challenging conditions: “Trolleys were often unavailable, so we had to care for patients on the unclean and chilly floor.”
“At times, the oxygen tubing was unable to reach certain patients. We were performing chest drain procedures in extremely unhygienic environments, depriving patients of any sense of dignity.
According to her, the availability of morphine or other pain relief is frequently lacking.
“I can’t stop thinking about it – a child entered, still alive but severely burned, their hands were clenched.” Their complexion was darkened, yet they remained animated and engaged in conversation. “And we didn’t have any morphine,” she stated.
“That memory and the smell of being treated on the floor will be difficult to forget.”
According to Dr. Smith, an emergency doctor, numerous patients came in with severe injuries, including burns, amputations, and shrapnel wounds.
“We witnessed individuals who had experienced traumatic amputations.” I witnessed a heartbreaking sight of a young child, barely a year old, who had suffered the traumatic loss of two limbs, while the remaining two were severely injured.
According to a recent update from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were ongoing bombardments in Gaza on Tuesday, with a focus on the Deir al-Balah and southern Khan Younis areas. The intensity of the attacks was reported to be significant, involving air, land, and sea forces.
“The offensive in these areas has led to the tragic loss of life and injuries for numerous individuals, causing immense suffering for tens of thousands of civilians. Many of these innocent people had already sought refuge in central and southern Gaza, fleeing from the dangers of Gaza City and the north,” it cautioned.
Israel has launched military operations in Gaza with the goal of eliminating Hamas and rescuing hostages held by the group.
The statement emphasises its commitment to minimising harm to civilians and holds Hamas responsible for concealing fighters among them.
An intense conflict erupted following a sudden and unexpected assault launched by Hamas militants on southern Israel on 7 October. The devastating attack resulted in a significant loss of life, with a majority of the victims being innocent civilians. Additionally, a considerable number of individuals were also held captive during this tragic event.
Over 23,350 lives have been tragically lost in Gaza over the course of 13 weeks of fighting, with a significant number of victims being children and women, as reported by the health ministry.