NHS hospitals have started pleading with families to take their Covid-infected relatives home to free up beds as trusts battle a ‘perfect storm’ of pressures.
The chief medical officer for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight area urged those who have loved ones in hospital to ‘help staff to get them home quickly when they are well enough — even if they are still testing positive’.
Meanwhile, millions of patients in Yorkshire have been told to stay away from A&E departments except in ‘genuine, life-threatening situations’. One ambulance service in the south of England even asked patients to make their own way to hospital.
Officials say the crisis — which is affecting every area of the health service — is being driven by a combination of a high level of Covid admissions and staff absences.
Health bosses have warned that the situation is already having a ‘knock-on effect’, jeopardising attempts to tackle the backlog of 6.1million patients whose treatment was effectively ground to a halt because of the pandemic.
Government statistics show 20,000 Covid patients are currently in hospital — meaning trusts are now busier than they were in January at the height of the Omicron wave.
The graph shows the number of Covid hospital patients in England (blue line), of which there were 16,587 yesterday, and the number in mechanical ventilation beds, which was 317 yesterday
Some 16,587 infected people were in beds in England yesterday morning, the highest figure since January 17 and six per cent higher than one week earlier. However, NHS data shows just 42 per cent of those in hospital were admitted because they were primarily unwell with the virus (blue line)
The chief medical officer for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Integrated Care System urged those who have loved ones in hospital to ‘help staff to get them home quickly when they are well enough — even if they are still testing positive’. Pictured: St. Mary’s Hospital in Newport, Isle of Wight, which is part of the integrated care system
Dr Derek Sandeman, chief medical officer at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Integrated Care System, said ‘well above average’ staff sickness rates, rising Covid cases and ‘very high numbers of people needing treatment means the health service is facing a ‘perfect storm’.
He said: ‘But there are some very specific ways in which people can help the frontline NHS and care teams.
‘If you have a loved one who is in hospital, please help staff to help get them home quickly when they are well enough – even if they are still testing positive for Covid.
‘That is enormously important to help us make beds available for those in greatest need.’
Covid inpatient levels are currently at their highest in over a year.
Some 20,396 infected people were occupying beds on April 5, the most recent day that UK-wide figures are available for.
January’s Omicron wave, which sparked demands for a national lockdown, saw a high of 20,050.
England’s levels have yet to surpass the numbers seen in January, however.
And NHS data shows just 42 per cent of ‘Covid’ patients in hospital were primarily being treated for the virus.
It suggests that thousands of patients were ‘incidental’ cases — those who test positive after being admitted for another reason, such as a broken leg, or beat the illness only to fall ill with something else.
NHS bosses still have to isolate Covid patients on virus-only wards.
And Covid can be a ‘significant co-morbidity in many cases’, the health service says.
Trusts across Yorkshire yesterday claimed the pressures have left them with no choice but to prioritise patients in ‘genuine, life-threatening situations’.
West Yorkshire Association of Acute Trusts, which covers 2.5million people, said its casualty units were ‘extremely busy’. Figures show there has been a ‘sharp uplift’ in patients attending over A&E over the past fortnight, with the total number of visits up 14 per cent on the same time last year.
In another sign of the constant pressure NHS medics are facing, South Central Ambulance Service — one of the largest trusts of its kind in the UK — declared a critical incident this morning, telling patients to make their own way to hospital unless their injuries or illnesses are not serious.
Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said the critical incidents highlights that ‘once again the pressure on our health service is mounting’.
And despite billions more in extra funding, she warned high infection rates will have a ‘direct knock-on effect on the NHS’s ability to tackle waiting lists’.
She said: ‘Ambulances, A&E departments and front-line providers of care across all parts of the NHS are weighed down by heavy demand.
‘Healthcare leaders and their exhausted teams are doing their utmost to provide patients with the treatment they require, but with 110,000 vacancies across the NHS, they also need urgent support from Government to address severe workforce shortages.
‘Healthcare leaders would urge the Government to have a realistic conversation with the public about the current situation in the health service.’
The health service is expected to increase its capacity by 30 per cent on pre-pandemic levels and carry out at least 9million more scans, tests and procedures.
A new national insurance tax will see workers pay 1.25 per cent more to help with the recovery.
But Dr McCay told The Telegraph that health bosses weren’t expecting record Covid rates when the targets were set.
She said: ‘There is an emerging gap between what the NHS and social care is being asked to deliver and the resources services have, which leaders are growing increasingly concerned about.’
Surveillance studies show Covid prevalence reached its highest ever level at the end of last month.
The REACT study, based on swabs of 109,000 people, yesterday reported that one in 16 people in England (6.4 per cent) were infected.
And the Office for National Statistics on Friday claimed more than 4.1million people had the virus on March 26, equivalent to one in 13 being infected.
But despite the record numbers reported by the random-swabbing studies, official Covid cases plunged to their lowest level in a month.
Another 51,253 positive tests were logged by UK Health Security Agency bosses yesterday, down 41 per cent on last week’s tally.
Experts say the daily counts are now ‘completely irrelevant’, however, because they rely entirely on testing.
Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said emergency care is becoming ‘increasingly compromised’.
He said: ‘Overcrowding in acute care settings results in worse patient outcomes and this is exacerbated by high staff absence levels due to the current levels of COVID-19.
‘Throughout NHS and social care, workforce challenges intensified and exacerbated by this situation mean that patient flow throughout the system is impaired and patients are stuck for long periods in emergency departments and acute medical units (AMUs).
‘Paramedics are then stuck unable to transfer their patients into hospitals and get back on the road, resulting in 999 patients at home left for longer periods without clinical assessment and treatment. This potentially has a significant impact on their outcomes.
‘Acute care teams continue to strive to provide high quality care but fatigued staff with the current workload demands struggle to achieve this and that has a significant impact on morale. While teams continue to work tirelessly to ensure they provide timely care for unwell patients, the ability to do so is being increasingly challenged.’