London hospitals 'close to being overwhelmed' as coronavirus cases surge

Ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital Credit: PA

London's NHS hospitals are close to becoming overwhelmed as coronavirus infection rates continue to surge, an A&E doctor has warned.

Dr Sonia Adesara said hospitals in the capital had "seen a massive rise in people coming in with Covid-19" on top of the usual winter caseload. Staff shortages were compounding the crisis.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast Dr Adesara said: “We are working all-out in the NHS – doctors and nurses are having leave cancelled, they’re doing extra shifts, they’re working extra long hours but its an extremely serious situation.

“The situation is untenable and I think we are very close to becoming overwhelmed.”

Such is the scale of the number of admission, one senior doctor said triage tents - normally reserved for major incidents like terror attacks - could be set up outside hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

The new variant of Covid-19 is driving an increase in coronavirus transmission. Credit: PA images.

Emergency medicine consultant Simon Walsh, who works in north-east London, said staff are working in “major incident mode” as he called on the Government to set out a “coherent plan” to get through the coming weeks.

He said many trusts in London and the South East were having to call on staff to come in to work if they are able to on their days off.

“They are dealing with queues of ambulances outside many emergency departments, often with patients sat in the ambulances for many hours until they can be offloaded into the department because there simply isn’t any space to put them in," Dr Walsh said.

Matthew Kershaw, chief executive of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, said hospitals were “very pressurised” and “very, very busy” because of the surge in coronavirus cases.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, he said the service was responding "well to the needs of our population" but that it was a "really important and difficult moment"

Nurses caring for a patient in an intensive care ward Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Mr Kershaw said: “We have expanded our capacity here in Croydon, as have hospitals around the capital and indeed across the country.

“So we have increased our critical care capacity, we’ve also got expansion capacity for general beds as well.

“So we have responded, thus far, well to the needs of our population.”

But he added: “It is very, very busy… and it’s a really important and difficult moment but we are responding well at this moment.”

Earlier on Tuesday the chief executive of NHS England warned healthcare workers were "back in the eye of the storm" amid rising coronavirus cases in the UK.

Sir Simon Stevens paid tribute to nurses, doctors, therapists and countless other NHS workers who had overcome their "toughest year", as well as cleaners and non-medical staff such as carers, volunteers and care home workers in a New Year message recorded at a vaccination centre.

Credit: PA

His message was reenforced by Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, and a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag).He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we’re going to need decisive, 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.

“I think 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.”

Dr Adesara said ambulance queues are now commonplace as a shortage of beds means they are unable to offload their patients, but she said compared to April, medical staff were getting much, much better and more experienced at treating the virus.

“We are doing all that we can and we will continue doing all that we can to keep everyone safe and make sure everyone is cared for, but I do think if we continue with current rate of admissions we are very, very close to becoming overwhelmed.”