Doctors raise alarm over ‘dire’ situation in NHS as Covid cases raise

Doctors raise alarm over ‘dire’ situation in NHS as Covid cases raise

Doctors raise alarm over ‘dire’ situation in NHS as Covid cases raise
We’re really looking at a situation where we’re moving into near lockdown, but we’ve got to learn the lessons from the first lockdown

NHS hospitals in England are under increasing pressure as coronavirus cases rise, with doctors raising the alarm about “very, very busy services” and one trust calling for volunteers to help prone patients.

The warning comes as the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals surpassed the peak of the first wave – up to 20,426 as of 8am on Monday, more than April’s high of 18,974. Health officials in Wales and Scotland have also said they fear becoming overwhelmed.

The UK reported 41,385 new lab-confirmed cases on Monday, the highest figure yet for a single day.

Matthew Kershaw, the chief executive of Croydon Health Services NHS trust, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that hospitals were “very pressurised” and “very, very busy”.

There were also calls for new national coronavirus restrictions to prevent a “catastrophe” at the start of 2021, from a leading infectious disease expert.

Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, told Today: “I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we’re going to need decisive and early national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.

“A 50% increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won’t work now, and so tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that.

“We’re really looking at a situation where we’re moving into near lockdown, but we’ve got to learn the lessons from the first lockdown.”

Kershaw said capacity had been expanded in Croydon, alongside hospitals around the capital and across the country. He said: “So we have responded, thus far, well to the needs of our population.”

He added: “It is very, very busy … and it’s a really important and difficult moment but we are responding well at this moment.”His words were echoed by Samantha Batt-Rawden, an NHS critical care doctor and the president of Doctors Association UK – a union that represents frontline medics – who expressed her exasperation on social media.

“I run a network for over 46K doctors. Things are really bad on the frontline and NHS doctors need help getting the word out,” she tweeted.

She added: “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-plus miles to the nearest hospital with critical care capacity. Please. Stay at home if you can.”

Batt-Rawden shared a tweet from Cardiff and Vale University health board, which has since been removed, that read: “Our critical care department is urgently looking for assistance from medical students or other staff groups who have previously supported with proning patients.”

“Proning” is the process of getting a patient on to their front. Getting someone into this position helps patients with acute respiratory distress.

Batt-Rawden said: “Please help NHS staff speak up about how things are on the frontline. It’s dire. And we are shouting it from the rooftops.”

Richard Breeze, the clinical director of critical care at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust, said coronavirus cases there were reaching the levels of the first wave but this time around they had fewer staff.

“It’s bad. And it’s getting worse,” he said. “We are swamped and expanding our footprint but we are stretched thinly, having to make our unit bigger to fit people in. We have fewer staff this wave than last, as more people are ill and have been tested for coronavirus and told to quarantine. We have less provision in terms of staff.”

Will Broughton, from the College of Paramedics, said there was a significant number of patients with Covid needing hospital admission in addition to the normal seasonal demands.

Hospitals were near the point of “urgently” needing more resources, he said, and it was taking them longer than it should to help some patients.

“All we are trying to do at the moment is protect the response to those who are critically unwell … but those who are lower priority are waiting a long time or not receiving an ambulance at all,” he said.

In a new year message recorded at a vaccination centre, Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, paid tribute to those on the frontline including doctors, nurses, therapists, as well as cleaners and non-medical staff such as carers, volunteers and care home workers.

Stevens said Covid-19 meant 2020 had “probably been the toughest year most of us can remember”.

“That is certainly true across the health service where we have been responding to the worst pandemic in a century,” he said. He added that the immunisation programme, the biggest in the health service’s history, was a source of greater hope for the year ahead.

“Many of us have lost family, friends, colleagues and – at a time of year when we would normally be celebrating – a lot of people are understandably feeling anxious, frustrated and tired,” Stevens said.

“And now again we are back in the eye of the storm with a second wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe and, indeed, this country.”

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