Coronavirus currently accounts for one in four patients at Queen’s Hospital, in Romford, and King George, in Ilford – up from five per cent in September, but below fears the virus would account for 30 per cent of beds.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS trust chiefs say frontline staff are “working enormously hard again to save lives and preserve lives” but are approaching the pandemic’s second wave with “trepidation”.
A total of 650 people have died with Covid at the trust since the start of the pandemic, including 224 since the start of September.
On Wednesday it had 235 Covid inpatients, down from 249 a week earlier. There were 24 in intensive care, a number that is “rising slowly”, including five on ventilators.
The majority are being treated on wards but more than a quarter require high-pressure oxygen – a “significant increase” that has taken the trust’s demand for oxygen to record levels, and near the maximum possible.
There have been nine outbreaks of Covid within the hospitals, caused by patients with undetected Covid arriving via the emergency department.
The outbreaks have not affected areas used by patients undergoing non-emergency surgery but the trust says it has struggled to tackle its backlog of non-Covid care as it has proved “really challenging” to convince the public that the hospitals are safe.
Trust chief executive Tony Chambers said: “The community prevalence rate for covid is too high and is not going down. We are not yet seeing a benefit from the lockdown but hopefully that will come.”
But it admitted case rates were “not uniform throughout the city” and “hospital admissions continue to increase in the east and north London in particular, although they are still well below the spring peak”.
More than 950 new Covid cases have been diagnosed in Havering in the latest seven-day period, 918 in Redbridge and 550 in Barking and Dagenham.
Mr Chambers told the trust board that Covid rates in its catchment area were six times higher than the least affected parts of London. There are at least 54 care homes in Havering – the most in a London borough.
He said the number of covid patients “are not going up but they’re not going down either” and that patients were being admitted and discharged in similar numbers. “At that balance, we can just about manage,” he said.
Chief medical officer Dr Magda Smith said: “Both Havering and Redbridge remain at the top of the London prevalence, and have for some weeks. At the moment there is no sign of that reducing.”
Mr Chambers said the trust was able to “draw solace” from the rise in covid home-testing for staff, the prospect of a vaccine and the recovery of long-stay covid patients such as Anil Patel, who required 149 days’ care.
The trust has been forced to close its children’s A&E at King George at nights until April to ease demand on staff. It has only been able to treat 45-50 per cent of adults within the four-hour A&E target and is short of 90 beds across the trust.