Coronavirus: London hospitals set to run out of beds in a fortnight

England’s health service comes under severe pressure as Covid-19 hospitalisations surge

A patient is brought into the Royal London Hospital, in Britain, on Thursday. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

A patient is brought into the Royal London Hospital, in Britain, on Thursday. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

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London hospitals will be overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients in two weeks unless the current rate of admissions drops significantly, according to a briefing given to senior doctors.

Vin Diwakar, medical director of NHS London, outlined stark forecasts on Wednesday which indicated that even in the “best-case scenario”, in which the number of Covid-19 patients rises at the lowest plausible rate of 4 per cent each day, hospitals in London would be short of close to 2,000 beds by January 19th.

In the mid-range scenario, a 5 per cent daily increase, there would be a 3,569-bed shortfall, and in the worst case, if the number of Covid-19 patients rises by 6 per cent each day, the NHS in London would need another 5,400 beds.

Under all of the scenarios, the number of non-coronavirus patients stayed the same, and the NHS found an extra 400 beds. The scenarios also factored in some provision from the temporary Nightingale hospitals, as well as the private medical sector.

England’s health service is coming under severe pressure as hospital beds fill up with Covid-19 patients at an alarming rate: English hospitals now have 46 per cent more confirmed coronavirus patients in hospital beds than at the peak of the first wave of the virus in 2020, according to Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS hospitals, as well as its community, mental health and ambulance services.

He posted data on Twitter showing that significant rises in weekly Covid-19 hospital admissions had been seen across the country, although the biggest increases were in London and the southwest.

Critical care

Hospital staff are battling to keep as much of their critical care running as possible, as they wait for the effects of the latest lockdown and the expanding vaccination campaign to kick in.

“The entire service from the front end to the back end is under strain,” said Dolin Bhagawati, a London neurosurgeon speaking on behalf of the Doctors’ Association UK. “We’re having to expand [intensive treatment unit] capacity, we’ve had to cancel a large amount of planned care, including operations.”

Dr Diwakar’s presentation, first reported by the Health Service Journal, was given over Zoom to the most senior members of London’s hospitals in an attempt to galvanise teams to work out how they would cope if the growth in Covid-19 hospitalisations was not reduced.

The briefing stated that as of January 5th, 95 per cent of beds on general and acute wards in London were occupied, and 97 per cent of intensive care beds were in use.

By comparison, at the same time last year, the same percentage of general and acute beds were occupied in London, but only 90 per cent of intensive care beds were taken up, according to NHS data.

More drastic impact

In the 2017/2018 winter, hospitals similarly cancelled swaths of non-urgent care due to winter pressures caused by a harsher than usual influenza season, but doctors say this year the impact on day-to-day operations has been much more drastic.

Dr Diwakar said: “Hospitals in London are coming under significant pressure from high Covid-19 infection rates, which is why they have opened hundreds of surge critical-care beds and are planning to open more, including opening the London Nightingale.

“While staff are going the extra mile to care for patients it is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021