Covid patients 'piling up at the door' as hospitals risk getting overwhelmed

29 December 2020, 12:33 | Updated: 29 December 2020, 13:24

Ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital
Ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Doctors across the country have warned hospitals are becoming overwhelmed amid a surge in coronavirus patients over the Christmas period, as they urged the public to stick to lockdown rules.  

Hospitals in England are now dealing with more Covid-19 patients than during the peak of the first wave, with figures showing there were 20,426 in NHS hospitals on Monday compared with 18,974 recorded on April 12.

The number lab-confirmed cases in a single day in the UK also hit a new high of 41,385 on Monday, rising above 40,000 for the first time, according to Government figures.

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Mervin Singer, professor of intensive care medicine at University College London, told LBC's Andrew Castle on Tuesday: “I've been doing intensive care for 30-odd years, I’ve never seen anything like we’re experiencing at the moment.

“Now we have the double whammy of sick people who don’t have Covid and this huge, huge surge of Covid patients who are incredibly ill and compounded by lack of staff - a lot staff members are going off sick and either having to isolate or there's a huge amount of burnout and stress - it’s completely unusual.”

Prof Singer said at some hospitals “huge numbers of patients are just piling up on the front door".

Many medical professionals have taken to social media to express concern that people are not taking the situation seriously by flouting Covid-19 restrictions.

Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, president of the Doctors’ Association UK, warned: “Hospitals are running out of oxygen. One trust has no non-invasive machines left. ICUs are tweeting for volunteers to prone patients. Transfer teams being requested to move patients 65+ miles to nearest hospital with critical care capacity. Please. Stay at home if you can.”

She added: “NHS staff are at breaking point. They are trying to speak up about how bad things are on the frontline but are being shot down on Twitter. Today we learnt that we have more patients with COVID in hospital than ever before in the England. This is not a drill. Please believe us.”

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke wrote: “We have - yet again - reached the desperate stage of Covid patients in such overwhelming numbers, hospitals are actually running out of oxygen. This is so very far from normal. PLEASE respect lockdown, mask up & wash your hands. Lives depend on it.”

Dr Philip Lee, a London-based consultant physician in acute medicine and medicine for the elderly, tweeted: “Things are bad. Please stay at home if you can. Please.”

Dr Sonia Adesara, who works as an A&E doctor in the capital, told BBC Breakfast: "The hospitals are extremely busy - we have seen a massive rise in people coming in with Covid-19 over the past week and this is on top of an increase in the non-Covid cases we see at this time of year."

She added: "We are doing all that we can and we will continue doing all that we can to keep everyone safe and make sure everyone is cared for, but I do think if we continue with current rate of admissions we are very, very close to becoming overwhelmed."

Paramedics in London are already getting support from other ambulance services in the South as they receive up to 8,000 emergency 999 calls each day.

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust was forced to declare an internal incident at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Sunday “as a precautionary step due to the high number of Covid-positive patients we are seeing at the hospital”.

The Cardiff and Vale University Health Board has put out an appeal on social media calling for "assistance from medical students or other staff groups who have previously supported with proning patients", the process where people are turned onto their front to help with breathing.

One ICU consultant in Wales told Sky News: “Hospitals bursting and we’re doubling up patients in rooms...mostly chaps 30’s to 70’s relatively little wrong with them medically. All quite grim.”

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said some trusts are reporting up to three times the number of Covid patients as at the peak of the first wave.

"This means hospitals and also ambulance services in Tier 4 areas and beyond are incredibly busy, compounded by increasing staff absences due to illness and the need to self-isolate," she said.

Professor Steve Hams, a chief nurse at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, told BBC Breakfast: "We've had a 30 per cent increase in the community transmission rate over the last week, we currently have 200 (Covid-19) patients in our hospital beds, 10 in critical care.”

During the first spike in April, the trust had had 60 Covid-19 patients, Prof Hams said.

He added: "It has probably been one of the most challenging times of my 25-year nursing career.”

He urged the public to "follow the rules and help protect the NHS and protect and save lives".

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