London Covid-19 patients now 10% above first wave peak as Nightingale Hospital set for admissions ‘next week’

Published: 2 January 2021

Post Desk : Covid-19 patients are set be admitted at London’s Nightingale Hospital as early as next week as sick people being treated for the disease in the capital rises well beyond the pandemic’s first wave peak last April.

It would be the first time patients have been admitted at the 4,000-bed facility built at the ExCeL Centre in Newham since spring.

Hospitals across the UK are struggling with rising numbers of severely ill patients, but facilities in the South East are coming under particular pressure.

New NHS figures reveal that 5,685 hospital beds in London were filled by Covid-19 patients on New Year’s Day – about 10 per cent more than the first wave peak of 5,201 on April 9.

Of those, 657 were on mechanical ventilators, slightly down on the 664 on December 31 – but nearly double the figure of 378 on December 21.

A figure of 5,685 beds represents around a quarter of hospitalised Covid-19 cases in England.

Nationally, new coronavirus cases exceeded 50,000 the fourth day in a row on Friday, with nearly 24,000 people in hospital and 613 deaths recorded. One was an eight-year-old child with underlying health conditions.

Large hospitals such as the Royal London in Whitechapel, St Bartholomew’s in the City and University College London in Bloomsbury are moving to convert wards into intensive care units to take more very sick Covid patients.

The move to imminently admit patients at London’s Nightingale hospital, reported in the Guardian, comes after the NHS said the facility and other similar ones across England were being ‘reactivated’ due to the surge in Covid-19 admissions.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the current case figures – which showed a further 53,285 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Friday – are “fairly mild” compared to what is expected in a week’s time and that healthcare workers are “really worried” about the coming months.

He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “There’s no doubt that Christmas is going to have a big impact, the new variant is also going to have a big impact, we know that is more infectious, more transmissible, so I think the large numbers that we’re seeing in the South East, in London, in South Wales, is now going to be reflected over the next month, two months even, over the rest of the country.”

Meanwhile, intensive care units in three London hospitals were said to have been “full” on New Year’s Eve, leaving patients waiting to be transferred to other hospitals for critical care.

Sky News reported a leaked NHS email sent to staff at University College London recording the status of ICU units in the northwest and central areas of London.

Neither North Middlesex University Hospital, Barnet Hospital and Whittington Hospital had room for seriously ill patients, it claimed.

At North Middlesex, the situation was so serious that the respiratory medicine ward was also “full”, the email said, adding that there were six patients receiving oxygen in the hospital’s A&E.

According to the update, The Royal Free in Belsize Park was said to have 58 intensive care patients, despite normally having 34 ICU beds, and “cannot take another transfer”.

An NHS spokesman confirmed the email had been sent. But he said the situation was changing so rapidly the information would almost certainly not be up to date.

One senior ICU doctor at a London hospital, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Times patients were “regularly coming to harm” because there are not enough nurses to care for all their needs.

He said clinical teams have asked managers to declare a major incident across London, but feel their request is being denied “because of politics and optics”.

Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said that the growing strain on hospitals since the end of the last lockdown has been “like watching a car crash in slow motion”.

Professor Mortensen said: “At the same time as people returned to work, to restaurants and shops, the new more contagious variant insidiously took hold in the south and east of England.

“Hospitals started to see the effects in mid-December, and across many parts of the country now, scheduled operations for hip or knee replacements, or ear, nose and throat operations, have had to be cancelled.

“Thousands of people already waiting, in pain or immobile for many months, will have been sorely disappointed this Christmas to have their operation cancelled or postponed.”

Most doctors now see vaccines as the only way out of the pandemic. More than a million people have now received their first coronavirus vaccination.

The deployment of the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will begin on Monday, almost a month after the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, but second doses of either will now take place within 12 weeks rather than 21 days as initially planned.

Professor Anthony Harnden insisted delaying the second anti-Covid dose was the right strategy, stating: “I don’t think this is a supply issue, as much as trying to get as many vaccines into as many people as possible.

“And, I accept that it may cause mistrust if we don’t communicate this properly.”