Hospitals are seeing record numbers of coronavirus patients as fears over NHS capacity saw Boris Johnson refuse to rule out a third lockdown.
‘We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like’ a third lockdown in the new year, the Prime Minister said, but added: ‘the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.’
A fifth of hospital trusts in England are treating more patients with Covid-19 than they were at the height of the first wave, while the number of people in hospital across the UK are reaching similar levels to those seen in the spring.
The Office for National Statistics said on Friday that cases of coronavirus were rising again in England for the first time since the end of the second lockdown on December 3.
Pictured: A woman receives the coronavirus vaccine as the Royal Cornwall Hospital begin their vaccination programme on December 9, 2020. A fifth of hospital trusts in England are treating more patients with Covid-19 than they were at the height of the first wave, figures suggest
Meanwhile, the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) said separately that the R number was above one – suggesting a growing outbreak.
The government added detail of how many patients are being treated for the virus in each hospital trust, with analysis by The Times finding that half of the trusts were not treating 50 percent as many patients as during the busiest point in the first wave.
One in five were treating more, the newspaper reported.
The total number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 15,465 on December 16, up from 13,467 a week earlier. During the first wave of the virus, this number peaked at 18,974 on April 12.
As of December 19, there were 18,469 people in UK hospitals being treated for coronavirus – around 3,000 fewer of April’s peak of 21,683.
Immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine Nick Scriven told The Times: ‘One important factor is that the length of stay in hospital for Covid patients has increased, up to twofold, for a variety of reasons including what has been virtually nine months of relative inactivity and hence deconditioning, especially in those frailer people who were subject to shielding advice.
‘This means the recovery time from any acute illness is extended. This increase in Covid patients with proportionately longer stays is a big problem for hospital bed capacities as we move into ‘long weekends’ and increasing admissions needing inpatient care.’
Margaret Keenan, 90, the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine, leaves University Hospital Coventry. The total number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 15,465 on December 16, up from 13,467 a week earlier. During the first wave of the virus, this number peaked at 18,974 on April 12
Staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust in London have written to the board calling on them to consider cancelling planned operations becuase of ‘pressures of staffing’ and ‘high rates of sickness and burnout’, according to The Health Service journal. They fear this might compromise patient safety.
Some hospitals across south-eastern England are already postponing non-urgent procedures as some face double the number of coronavirus patients they had in the spring.
The NHS in Kent confirmed on Friday evening that it would be putting a stop to some planned treatments across the region ‘due to the increase in Covid patients being treated’.
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS trust had 221 Covid-19 patients on December 16, more than 120 more than the 98 they had in the first peak on April 8.
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust was treating 357 people with coronavirus on Wednesday, almost twice the maximum number they had at any point in spring, when figures topped out at 187 on April 20.
A spokesperson for the NHS in Kent said on Friday: ‘We are working hard to ensure we treat as many patients as possible, while ensuring we provide a safe hospital environment.
Some hospitals across south-eastern England are already postponing non-urgent procedures as some face double the number of coronavirus patients they had in the spring
‘However, the increase in numbers has meant difficult decisions to prioritise cases of higher urgency.’
They promised that urgent treatments such as cancer operations ‘will go ahead as normal’.
London is still well below its first wave peak of Covid patients, but NHS trusts are facing pressure as the number of cases continue to increase across the city.
Some 2,543 patients were recorded in the capital on December 16, up from 1,787 a week ago.
The first wave peak in London was 5,201 patients on April 9.
Barts Health NHS Trust, which serves around 2.5 million people in east London, said on Thursday it has moved to the ‘high pressure’ phase of its winter escalation plan.
A Barts Health spokesman said: ‘We are treating high numbers of patients with Covid-19, and in line with our winter escalation plan we have moved into a ‘high pressure’ phase and are taking steps to keep our patients safe.
‘These include deferring some routine procedures over the coming days so we can redeploy staff and increase the number of critical care and general beds available.’
The trust, which operates across four major hospital sites The Royal London, St Bartholomew’s, Whipps Cross and Newham, said the plan will not affect cancer patients and that people will be contacted directly if their elective procedures need to be postponed.