All UK hospitals are under significant pressure and a new surge in Covid is “a very heavy straw on the camel’s back”, health leaders have warned.
At least eight hospitals declared a critical incident, canceled operations or told people not to go to the emergency room unless they were seriously ill in the past week. One of Britain’s top emergency doctors said there were links between incidents like these and the rapid rise in hospitalizations for COVID-19, up nearly 37% in a week to 7,024. While the Office for National Statistics said it was too early to say whether an autumn wave of Covid had started, health leaders said ministers urgently need to address staffing shortages.
Dr. Adrian Boyle, incoming president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told the Observer: “Our system has few resources. We don’t have enough beds and we don’t have the workforce for the demand we are being asked to address.
“Covid just makes everything that much more difficult and it is entirely valid to link this to critical incidents that are being called across the country. All hospitals are feeling significant levels of pressure right now. Covid is a very heavy straw on the camel’s back.”
The first signs of a rise in Covid infections were in the south west of England. Last Friday, National Health Service Devon warned people about “longer-than-usual waits” in emergency departments. NHS Devon Chief Nursing Officer Darryn Allcorn said people who arrived at A&E without a life-threatening emergency “can be directed to a more appropriate service”.
Hospital trusts in the Midlands and the North have announced that they were struggling to cope with demand. University of Nottingham hospitals The Trust declared a critical incident, postponing some operations due to extreme pressure, and on Friday the alert was extended to cover all of Nottinghamshire.
In neighboring Lincolnshire, routine operations at the Diana, Princess of Wales hospital in Grimsby were cancelled, and Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust said there had been a significant increase in people attending A&E.
The Royal Liverpool Hospital said it had very limited space in emergency departments and St George’s Hospital in London asked people to go to A&E only in serious situations.
Boyle, who takes office this week, said the first cast should be applied to social care. “We need to use the beds we have as efficiently as possible. That means ordering social care, so that people don’t stay in the hospital waiting to leave.”
the spectrum of a twindemic of flu and Covid means winter “could get very bleak,” he said, “like two playground bullies getting together and forming a gang.” “What is happening with urgent and emergency care, particularly ambulance deliveries and long waits in emergency departments, needs to be made a political priority. We need leadership and we need grip and investment.”
Last week, research by the Nuffield Trust revealed that a record number of nurses were quitting the NHS, with one in nine leaving their jobs.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said a rise in Covid infections and hospitalizations “should be a cause for concern”, calling on nurses to have access to the highest quality PPE.
“As we head into winter, it is important that health care leaders remain vigilant and ready to act to prevent further spread of the virus. We all saw what happened last winter and nobody wants to take a step back.”
Saffron Cordery, acting chief executive of NHS Providers, said trusts had become more adept at dealing with Covid, for example by setting up “hot” and “cold” sites.
“But we must be clear that we are back at levels with the R rate above one in many places. We need to think about the impact not only on patients but also on staff, and what it means for them to go through this again. With a double pandemic this winter, we will see an increase in demand and more staff will be absent.
She said Thérèse Coffey, the health secretary, should focus on vaccines and supporting the NHS workforce.
Dr. Veena Raleigh, a senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said Covid was the sixth leading cause of death, with more than 300 people dying each week.
“[That is] a stark reminder that this virus remains a threat for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Although early, this increase in cases is consistent with what was expected as winter approaches. Acting now to prevent further hospitalizations and deaths is crucial.”
People at higher risk for Covid should get vaccinated as soon as possible, Raleigh said. “This is especially important for people from disadvantaged and ethnic minority communities, given the disproportionately brutal impact Covid-19 has had on them.” Wearing masks on public transportation and in crowded places would also help, she added.
“Since the spring of this year, deaths overall have been significantly higher than expected compared to previous years, in part due to Covid-19 deaths. There is a real risk that the number of excess deaths will increase. The NHS was overwhelmed even during the summer months, when demand for healthcare is normally lower, and winter will bring additional pressures. We therefore urge the government to address long-standing staffing and funding shortfalls in the NHS and social care services that predate the pandemic and continue to limit the ability to meet the needs of patients.”