London hospitals will be overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients in two weeks unless the current rate of admissions drops significantly, according to a briefing given to senior doctors.
Vin Diwakar, medical director of NHS London, outlined stark forecasts on Wednesday, forecasting that even in the “best-case scenario”, in which the number of Covid-19 patients rises at the lowest plausible rate of 4 per cent each day, hospitals in London would be short of close to 2,000 beds by January 19.
In the mid-range scenario, a 5 per cent daily increase, there would be a 3,569 shortfall, and in the worst case, if the number of Covid-19 patients rises by 6 per cent each day, the NHS in London would need another 5,400 beds.
Under all scenarios, the number of non-coronavirus patients stayed the same, the NHS found an extra 400 beds, relied on the private medical sector and some provision from the temporary Nightingale hospitals.
England’s health service is coming under severe pressure as hospital beds fill up with Covid-19 patients at an alarming rate: English hospitals now have 46 per cent more confirmed coronavirus patients in hospital beds than at the peak of the first wave of the virus in 2020, according to Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS hospitals, community, mental health and ambulance services.
He posted data on Twitter showing that significant rises in weekly Covid-19 hospital admissions had been seen across the country, although the biggest increases were in London and the South West.
Hospital staff are battling to keep as much of their critical care running as possible, as they wait for the effects of the latest lockdown and the expanding vaccination campaign to kick in.
“The entire service from the front-end to the back end is under strain,” said Dolin Bhagawati, a London neurosurgeon speaking on behalf of the Doctors’ Association UK. “We’re having to expand [intensive treatment unit] capacity, we’ve had to cancel a large amount of planned care, including operations.”
The presentation, first reported by the Health Service Journal, was given over Zoom to the most senior members of London’s hospitals in an attempt to galvanise teams to work out how they would cope if the growth in Covid-19 hospitalisations was not reduced.
Dr Diwakar, who gave the Zoom presentation on Wednesday, said: “Hospitals in London are coming under significant pressure from high Covid-19 infection rates, which is why they have opened hundreds of surge critical care beds and are planning to open more, including opening the London Nightingale.
“While staff are going the extra mile to care for patients it is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus.”
Meanwhile, the government’s vaccination rollout is progressing. In the week to January 3, 308,541 people were vaccinated against Covid-19 in England, taking the total number of inoculations to 1,112,866, according to data released by the NHS on Thursday.
The government is aiming to increase weekly vaccination numbers more than six-fold by the end of this month, taking the amount administered each week to 2m doses.
Some 60 per cent of vaccinations to date have been given to members of the public aged over 80, who are the government’s highest priority for receiving the jab because of their risk of more severe outcomes.
Of this demographic in England, 23 per cent have now received at least one dose, an increase of 4.5 percentage points over last week, when 18.5 per cent had been inoculated. Last week, the rate at which the over-80 population was being inoculated increased faster, at 6.5 percentage points.