Southmead Hospital is taking critically ill Covid-19 patients from as far away as Birmingham because of pressures on intensive care units (ICUs) across the country.
The ICU at the north Bristol hospital is taking around five Covid-positive patients from other regions each week, with that number expected to rise.
North Bristol NHS Trust’s chief operating officer Karen Brown said Southmead Hospital has expanded its ICU bed numbers from 46 to 55 and accepted ICU patients from “as far as Swindon, out to Yeovil and beyond”.
Speaking at South Gloucestershire Council’s health scrutiny committee on January 27, she said: “We’ve had patients transferred to us from Kent and also Birmingham as well.”
Seven ICU patients arrived in 10 days, with numbers expected to rise to one a day, according to Ms Brown’s presentation.
The hospital has also taken dozens of non-ICU patients, with and without Covid, from the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Weston General Hospital.
But people who live in the local NHS area should not worry there won’t be an ICU bed for them if they get sick, Ms Brown said.
“We recognise our absolute requirements to our local population,” she added.
She said accepting patients from elsewhere is part of a "surge" planning process to support other areas, adding: “It’s a clinical decision on a daily basis about who we receive into the organisation from those regional places."
But Ms Brown acknowledged Southmead Hospital has had to cancel most elective operations, other than those for cancer patients and “urgent life and limb”, to free up beds for Covid-19 patients.
The hospital is still carrying out acute operations and neurosurgical work, and providing emergency and trauma services.
Ms Brown said it had been “a challenge” to provide safe staffing levels on the wards and within the ICU, where some Covid-positive patients stay for more than two weeks.
She said the hospital does not have enough staff to provide critical care nurses to every single patient, so staff are moved from elsewhere.
She added: "We’ve used experienced people who have had experience within our intensive care units in the intervening period just to manage through Covid and that has been anaesthetic members of staff, it has been physiotherapists.”
Admissions for flu and gastrointestinal illnesses are down on previous years, partly due to social distancing which reduces transmission of all infectious diseases, not just Covid, the meeting heard.
Credit: Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter