A THEATRE operator working at one of Wales’ most over-run hospitals in Gwent has shared the “nightmare” impact Covid-19 has had on him, and why it angers him to see more people flouting lockdown rules.

Glenn Dene, who lives in Abergavenny and moved from the town’s Nevill Hall Hospital to the new Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran in the autumn, said he had “never felt anything like it” after catching the virus just before Christmas.

Mr Dene, who escapes from the rigours of tackling a second variant by taking photos of hospital staff and patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Grange, says the camaraderie and spirit felt in previous lockdowns is now waning as a result of damaging conspiracy theories and lockdown flouting.

Free Press Series: Glenn Dene

Glenn Dene

“It’s been by far the busiest hospital I’ve ever come across,” the 38-year-old said of the Grange. “We’re so short staffed that we’re now all covering departments we’ve not worked on before in the most challenging period in NHS history.”


The Aneurin Bevan health board had at one stage the most Covid cases per head in the UK, and Mr Dene says he feels he has a duty to depict the realities of the pandemic on Wales’ hospitals through his photos.

Free Press Series: One of Glenn Dene's photographs

One of Glenn Dene's photographs

“Initially I started doing it because I thought it was important to capture a life-changing period,” he said. “But with all the falsehoods we’ve heard about empty beds across Wales, it’s probably become even more important to show the truth.”

He says he feels angry when seeing reports of empty beds and lockdown flouters, having now gone through Covid himself and getting to know people in his hospitals who have died.

“I have got to know many people in ICU that I’ve taken photos of who have passed away. Many were a similar age to me. Many I was convinced were going to make it.

“That’s the most awful thing about this virus – it’s so unpredictable. There was a father and son in there who were lovely. One day the father seemed in good spirits and the next he’d died.

Free Press Series: Glenn Dene

One of Glenn Dene's photographs

“I knew an older couple who died too.

“I’ve found sometimes the pictures have helped the families in their grief, which is lovely to know.”

The impact of constant deaths on top of news of lockdown flouting and sceptics has had an impact on the mental health of his colleagues.

“It hasn’t got any easier – harder in fact. The second strain is more intense and we’re seeing a lot younger people in hospital with it.

“I know many colleagues off sick now struggling with their mental health. I think a mental health crisis born from this will be around for a lot longer than the pandemic.

Free Press Series: Glenn Dene

One of Glenn Dene's photographs

“I try and detach my work life from anything else, but it’s tough at the moment.”

None more so than when, on Christmas eve, Mr Dene realised he had contracted the virus.

“It was in the early hours of the morning I woke up sweating buckets. My temperature was more than 38 and I knew I had it.

“I then started to struggle to breathe.

“I didn’t lose my taste or smell, but everything tasted metallic, and I was completely shattered.”

Free Press Series: Glenn Dene

One of Glenn Dene's photographs

On Boxing Day, after two days struggling to breathe, he received the positive result and became convinced he was going to the ICU where he had taken the photos.

“I just broke down – it was the sheer fear that I thought I was going to be ventilated. I just didn’t want to put that pressure on my colleagues.”

He is still feeling the effects of the virus and is using an inhaler every day.

“I’m not asthmatic but I’m taking it all the time. It shows the impact it can have. I don’t think I have long Covid but I know many colleagues who are working with it.”

The return of the weekly applause for key workers last week annoyed him.

Free Press Series: Glenn Dene

One of Glenn Dene's photographs

“I liked it in the first lockdown – it was new and we felt appreciated. But now it’s just irritating, especially when you see people not obeying the rules.

“It’s like we’ve gone from hero to zero. There seems to be a percentage of people who just don’t really care. I’ve even had friends talk falsehoods about the virus – it’s so frustrating when you’re living it on a daily basis.”

His message to the politicians is simple: “Mental health services have been slashed at a time when staff are struggling the most. Don’t clap us – fund us so our staff can get the help they need.”

Free Press Series: Glenn Dene

One of Glenn Dene's photographs

His message to people across Wales and the UK is the same: “Please obey the rules. There are no conspiracies about this virus. It’s not big and brave to take photos of empty rooms and pretend we’re not struggling.”

His images, which he plans to continue until the end of the pandemic, will be stored permanently in the National Library of Wales.