The hospital staff that saved the lives of the poisoned Russians Sergei and Yulia Skripal They revealed the concerns they had when they learned they were dealing with victims of a nerve agent attack.
The Skripals had been found collapsed in a bank on March 4, but the staff attending them at the Salisbury District Hospital initially did not know why.
Nursing Director Lorna Wilkinson said that a key moment arrived when police officer Nick Bailey entered with similar symptoms. "There was a real concern about how big this could be," he said.
He told BBC Two & # 39; s Newsnight: "Did we just have two index patients who have something that could actually be cumbersome and involve many victims? Because we really did not know at the time."
and the room her sister Sarah Clark, who was on duty that night, added that there were fears that the hospital staff could end up being affected.
He noted that, at that stage, they had not taken "additional precautions in terms of protecting us".
When the nature of what they faced became apparent, the hospital staff said they did not have high hopes. to see his two patients recover.
But after weeks of treatment – involving expert advice from nearby research facilities in Porton Down – Yulia and Sergei were finally discharged to continue their recovery in an undisclosed direction.
The series of interviews with Newsnight marks the first time that the hospital staff has spoken in detail about the event and how they reacted.
& # 39; Wildest Imagination & # 39;
The testimonies of the medical personnel emphasize the vital importance of the decisions taken in key times: the early arrival to intensive care, the strong sedation used to limit the possible brain damage and the importance of the advice, tests and treatments suggested by the Experts in Porton Down.
When the Skr ipals were found, an overdose of opioids was suspected.
"They told us that there were two patients in the emergency room who were critically ill and would come to the unit," recalled the room's sister, Mrs. Clark.
But when the police learned of Mr. Skripal's previous career as a Russian spy, they told the hospital and discussed the possibility that he had been the victim of a targeted attack.
A major incident was declared in the hospital and the police moved to protect the Skripals.
"I spoke with the nurse in charge," recalled Dr. Duncan Murray, the hospital's senior intensive-care consultant, "and it was this conversation that I could never have imagined in my wildest imaginations to have with someone …  "Essentially the story of a well-known Russian spy who has been admitted to the hospital under quite unusual circumstances."
As they continued the treatment, the medical staff discarded the previous theory on opioid poisoning, realizing that what they were seeing they were typical symptoms of poisoning by organophosphates or nerve agents.
Dr. Stephen Jukes, an intensive care consultant at the hospital, said: "When we realized that That it was a nervous agent, we hoped they would not survive.
"We would try all of our therapies, we would make sure that it was the best." But all the evidence was there that they would not survive.
Both Skripals were heavily sedated, which allowed them to tolerate the intrusive medical equipment to which they were connected, but also helped to protect them from brain damage, a possible consequence of the nerves. poisoning of the agent.
Over time, sedation was reduced and ventilation changed from the mouth to the trachea, as shown by the vivid scar seen on Yulia Skripal's neck in the television statement she gave after her release.
Once the patients turned More conscious, the staff had to carefully consider what they could tell them without prejudice to the police investigation, and decide the right time to allow the interrogation of the detectives.
The medical director, Dr. Christine Blanshard, explained: "Those are very difficult decisions, because on the one hand, you want to guarantee patients that they are safe and that they are being cared for, and on the other hand, you do not want to give them information that may cause difficulties with subsequent interviews with the police. "
It was the doctors and nurses who, concerned about their patients, insisted that international inspectors obtain a warrant before they were allowed to take blood samples from the Skripals.
Dr. Jukes explained: "These are vulnerable patients, I needed some kind of advocate and without a court order we could not allow things to happen to them without their consent."
Once the Skripals remained stable and could talk, the main concern for The medical staff was how their production of the key enzyme acetylcholinesterase (needed to restore their normal bodily functions) could be stimulating. ulated.
The body will naturally do so after intoxication with nerve agents, but the process can take several months.
When testing drug combinations, Dr. Murray says that the hospital received contributions from "international experts," some of them from Porton Down.
The laboratory, known internationally for its experience in chemical weapons, processed tests and offered advice on the best therapies.
New approaches for well-known treatments were tested. Dr. Jukes said the speed of Skripals' recovery was a very pleasant surprise that he can not fully explain.
Finally, Julia was discharged from the Salisbury District Hospital on April 9 and last week she made a statement thanking the hospital. His father's departure from the hospital was announced on May 18.
Dr. Murray said: "The vast majority of improvements and success … were due to very good basic and basic basic care."
He also praised the "excellent teamwork on the part of the doctors, the fantastic care and dedication of our nurses".
Inevitably, there will be longer-term questions about Skripals' health.
Dr. Blanshard said they would need continued support, noting: "We have a total worldwide experience of treating three patients for the effects of Novichok poisoning and I think it is safe to say that we are still learning."
See the full report in BBC Newsnight – May 29, 2018 at 22:30 on BBC Two.