NHS will cope with surge in coronavirus patients – but only if every Brit does their bit
THE NHS will cope with a surge in demand as coronavirus spreads, but only if every Brit does their bit and listens to Government advice.
England’s top doctor Chris Whitty, once again urged the public to follow social distancing guidelines, to reduce demand on the health service.
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Speaking at the daily No10 briefing, Prof Whitty said warned it will be a “close run thing” – warning without everyone playing their part, the NHS could be overrun.
“Providing people keep to social distancing measures that will help to pull down the demand, a very long way,” he explained.
“It is how the general public are helping to protect the NHS.
“We are increasing supply (in the NHS) by pushing back things that can be postponed, and increasing critical care and ventilators in the next few weeks.”
Praising the “fantastic work” of colleagues in the NHS, Prof Whitty said if everybody follows the guidelines, this will “probably be manageable for the NHS”.
“We cannot guarantee that, but that is what we are planning for and what we intend to happen,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London – and a member of the Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government – echoed those views.
He told the Science Select Committee the NHS will cope, if measures are followed.
“There will be some areas that are extremely stressed but we are reasonably confident – which is all we can be at the current time – that at the national level we will be within capacity,” he added.
It comes as reports warned London could run out of intensive care beds within four days – while the rest of the UK could reach capacity within two weeks.
London running out of ICU beds, warn docs
Medics say they are already facing a frightening “Italy situation” an are being forced to choose which Covid-19 patients they should try to save.
Yesterday, the UK saw its biggest spike in deaths over a 24-hour period, taking the nationwide total to 422.
Earlier today, Scotland announced six further deaths, while Wales reported five.
The overall daily total for the UK, which is published by the Department of Health is expected later this evening.
Yesterday, Claire Murdoch, the NHS’ national director for mental health warned London would run out of intensive care beds in just four days without urgent action.
She told health bosses the need for ICU beds will now double every three days.
The capital’s hospitals are now frantically planning to try to quadruple their “surge capacity” in intensive care over the next fortnight, from around 1,000 surge beds over the weekend, to more than 4,000 in two weeks’ time, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ).
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Worst hit hospital
The worst-hit trust in the country is London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, where 21 patients who tested positive for the new coronavirus have died since Friday.
The trust controls two major hospitals including Northwick Park in Harrow, which last week became the first in the country to declare a “critical incident” with its intensive care unit 100 per cent full.
Staff at the Northwick Park hospital in Harrow told The Daily Telegraph that doctors are now rationing care to those most likely to survive and medical workers have built a new six-bed car ward because the site has run out of space.
One senior nurse said: “We’re already in an Italy situation where the doctors are deciding who should be put on the ventilators, and who should not.
“Most of the people who passed away have been elderly with various comorbidities, but we also have younger people struggling to breathe, and they will sometimes get the ventilators first.”
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The nurse also warned that there aren’t enough people to operate machines and that even staff with flu-like symptoms are coming in because there’s nobody else to care for coronavirus patients.
It comes as a survey of NHS chief executives across the country found one in three hospital expected to run out of intensive care capacity by next week.
‘Diluting’ standard of care
Nicki Credland, chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses, said the profession had no choice but to “dilute” the standard of care to try to help more patients.
She told HSJ: “There will absolutely be a lot of concern about this in the profession, but it’s the only option we’ve got available.
“We simply don’t have the capacity to increase our staffing levels quickly enough.
“It will dilute the standard of care, but that’s absolutely better than not having enough critical care staff.”
Consultants will also have to oversee more patients, with a ratio of one senior doctor for 15 patients replaced with a 1: 30 rule.
The poll of 34 trust chief executives by Health Service Journal found that 11 expected their trust to run out of intensive care capacity by next week, with warnings from eight such trusts expecting to exhaust their resources this week.
One said: “We are preserving ventilation capacity by ensuring that only those who may survive are considered.”
Claire Murdoch, of NHS England, said: “This is exactly why the NHS is already increasing treatment capacity across all hospitals, while getting on with other options too, including new facilities and as landmark deal with private hospitals which has put 20,000 staff, 8,000 beds and 1,200 ventilators at our disposal.”
Experts say this is the difference between the UK and Germany, which appears to be beating the coronavirus odds with just 171 deaths.
They say the fact Germany has one of the world’s highest concentrations of hospitals may be helping to keep the German death rate down.
On top of this, the German government said it would double the number of intensive care beds to about 56,000 amid the coronavirus pandemic, while the UK has just 4,000 ICU beds.
The UK yesterday saw its biggest daily spike in deaths from coronavirus, taking the nationwide total to 422.
Eighty-three of the 89 coronavirus fatalities confirmed on Tuesday were in England, with two in Scotland, one in Wales, and three in Northern Ireland.
On top of this, 1,427 more patients were confirmed to have the virus – taking the total number of infected Brits to over 8,000.
More on coronavirus
However, the true size of the outbreak is likely unknown because of the Government’s controversial decision to only test patients in hospital.
The Health Secretary yesterday announced plans to use London’s ExCeL conference centre as a field hospital, with 4,000 beds split into two giant wards.
From next week, it will provide 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen.