Some hospitals in the north of England are set to run out of beds for Covid patients within a week, health chiefs are warning, amid growing signs that the disease’s fast-unfolding second wave will seriously disrupt normal NHS care for a second time.
NHS trusts in the north-east and north-west are getting so many new Covid cases every day that some are already planning to ditch routine surgery again to free up staff and beds, despite a health service-wide diktat that they should continue to provide normal care this time round.
“Mutual aid” plans are also being laid for hospitals to take Covid cases from outside their area to help relieve the pressure on those in which all beds equipped to treat such patients have filled up.
Matt Ashton, Liverpool’s director of public health, told the Guardian that the city’s two main acute hospital trusts are admitting so many new Covid patients every day that they may reach their maximum capacity by the end of next week.
“I don’t want to panic people but within seven to ten days our hospitals will be at the level they were at the peak of the pandemic.”
In a meeting chaired by England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, on Thursday, MPs from the north and the Midlands were warned that some hospitals there could see even more Covid patients in intensive care units than during the spring peak within 22 days if no further action was taken.
Ashton said: “If the north-west capacity is likely to be reached in 22 days, we will get there first – Liverpool will get there first.”
The number of Covid patients being treated by the city’s Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen trust and Aintree University Hospital NHS trust has soared from 100 to 200 in the last week. The two trusts have about 400 beds between them which are suitable for caring for such cases. The fact that hospitalisations are doubling every seven days means they could reach their limits of 400 very soon, especially as Liverpool now has one of the highest infection rates in England, added Ashton.
“It’s doubled in a week in effect from roughly 100 to roughly 200. That’s hugely worrying,” said Ashton, adding that on current trends another doubling would see all 400 beds full by late next week. “Beds will fill up quickly now. This is the point where the NHS will start to struggle in doing its normal routine business alongside its Covid business.”
MPs who were briefed by Whitty and health minster Edward Argar believe that the government is preparing to impose further new restrictions on northern England, aimed at curbing the spread of infections, despite many of the local lockdowns already in force having failed to achieve that.