Hospitals have been forced to lower standards of care after the number of Covid patients doubled in a month, NHS bosses warned last night.
There are now a record 26,626 virus patients in England’s hospitals, 33 per cent higher than the April peak of 18,974 and up from 12,987 on December 4.
Senior doctors warned the NHS could soon ‘max out’ as infections continue to soar, with an all-time high of 58,784 positive cases recorded yesterday.
Latest data shows that 3,145 patients were admitted to hospitals in England on Saturday, the highest on record. NHS chiefs said that the surge in Covid admissions in the nine days since Christmas alone was enough to fill 18 full hospitals.
A further 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were recorded yesterday, bringing the total to 75,431.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England, said: ‘The continuous rise in cases and deaths should be a bitter warning for us all.’
NHS chiefs said the pressure on hospitals will keep increasing throughout January because infection rates are so high.
Intensive care nurses say they are already ‘stretched beyond breaking’, with the usual ratio of one nurse per patient relaxed so they are caring for up to three patients. The shortage of nurses also means that in some hospitals, including the Royal London, NHS consultants have stepped in to work shifts as ICU nurses.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents hospitals, said staff were making ‘compromises’ to standards of care due to the ‘relentless’ pressure. He said: ‘[Hospitals] are taking their staff and spreading them more thinly. There will be two or three nurses looking after a ward of patients when normally there would be five or six.
Intensive care nurses say they are already ‘stretched beyond breaking’, with the usual ratio of one nurse per patient relaxed so they are caring for up to three patients
‘There is probably not a critical care unit in the country that has a one-to-one ICU nurse to patient ratio.’
Thousands of non-urgent operations, such as knee or hip surgery, have been cancelled to free up space for virus patients. Mr Mortimer added: ‘The level of pressure is impacting on other services.
‘We’ve now had six days [in a row] at more than 50,000 confirmed infections. Our members are very, very worried.
‘They know that rising infections leads to rising admissions, which leads to death and harm for patients. They have to ask things of staff and make compromises to the standards of service.
‘We expect it to keep getting worse through January and February, the current experience in London is going to be felt in rest of the country. There will be fewer staff, people waiting far longer and ambulance crews significantly delayed.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers (pictured), said hospitals were filling up ‘at a deeply alarming rate’
‘Our teams will not allow the NHS to collapse but we need the help of the public.’ Dave Carr, an ICU nurse in London, said there were ‘scenes of real chaos and confusion and pressure inside hospitals’.
He added: ‘Our intensive care units are stretched beyond breaking. In ITUs across London, these nurses are looking after three patients on ventilators. It’s absolutely harrowing, it’s breaking us.’
Separate NHS figures, seen by the Health Service Journal, show at least 2,930 people spent at least 12 hours on a trolley in December. The previous highest number was 2,847 in January 2020.
Although London and the South East remain the worst affected part of the country, data shows the NHS is struggling in every region. England’s largest hospital trust, University Hospitals Birmingham, said its ITU bed occupancy rates currently stood at 98 per cent.
Thousands of non-urgent operations, such as knee or hip surgery, have been cancelled to free up space for virus patients. Pictured: File image of ambulances outside Southend University hospital in Essex on December 31, 2020
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society of Acute Medicine, said: ‘Covid patients are requiring more and longer hospital care, so beds will fill up and stay filled for longer … and if you add in even just a fraction of the “normal” winter pressures, things could get dire quickly.
‘Also, it could get extremely difficult over the next ten to 21 days as the effects of people catching Covid over Christmas/New Year become apparent. While I think the NHS could well reach a “maxed out” stage, that will really manifest itself in the cancellation of all non-acute work.’
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospitals were filling up ‘at a deeply alarming rate’, adding: ‘Today’s figures show that, in the ten days since Xmas, we’ve seen nearly 9,000 more Covid patients in hospital beds.
‘That’s equivalent to 18 hospitals full of new Covid patients in ten days. The new variant has changed the rules.’