London’s hospitals 'on the edge of being overwhelmed by Covid-19'

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London’s hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed by coronavirus, even under the “best-case” scenario, according to an official briefing.

The Health Service Journal said NHS England London region medical director Vin Diwakar had set out the stark predictions to the medical directors of the capital’s hospital trusts on a Zoom call.

The NHS England presentation, seen by the HSJ, showed that, even if the number of Covid patients grows at the lowest rate considered likely, and measures to manage demand and increase capacity, including opening the capital’s Nightingale hospital, are successful, the NHS in London will be short of nearly 2,000 general and acute and intensive care beds by January 19.

The briefing forecasts demand for both general and acute care (G&A), as well as intensive care beds, for both Covid and non-Covid patients, against capacity. It accounted for the impact of planned measures to mitigate demand and increase capacity.

For both G&A and intensive care, three scenarios are detailed:

  • “Best”, which projects 4% daily growth;

  • “Average”, which plots 5% daily growth;

  • “Worse”, which forecasts 6% daily growth.

The briefing says that growth on January 5 was 3.5% for G&A beds and 4.8% for intensive care beds.

On Thursday a London consultant warned that the situation facing hospitals is “definitely worse than the first wave” as the capital grapples with a surge of coronavirus cases.

Intensive care professor Rupert Pearse told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is definitely worse than the first wave and proving much harder to deal with now as the resources we had in the first wave aren’t available to us.

Asked if he believes the health service could be overwhelmed within two weeks, he said: “I never thought in my entire career that I might say something like this but yes I do.

“Unless we take the lockdown seriously the impact on healthcare for the whole country could be catastrophic. And I don’t say those words lightly.”