UK hospitals are under extreme pressure due to rising Covid-19 cases

Hospitals in the South of England say they have experienced a “real rise in pressure” as the number of coronavirus patients receiving treatment increases.

London Ambulance Service’s called Boxing Day (26 Dec) one of its “busiest ever days,” with paramedics in London receiving almost 8,000 daily call outs.

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On Sunday (27 Dec), around 30,501 infections and 316 deaths were recorded in the UK.

However, these figures for deaths and cases are likely to be higher, as Scotland is not releasing death data between 24 and 28 December, and Northern Ireland is not providing data for either cases or deaths over the same period.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS providers, told the BBC, “We’re seeing a real rise in the pressure for hospital services, but also other types of NHS services as well… ambulance trusts in particular are coming under extreme pressure, as are community and mental health services.”

Speaking about issues in London and in the South, Cordery added, “Part of the issue is many more people coming through the door with Covid, but also people coming through the door with other conditions as well.”

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Demand for services ‘risen sharply’

On December 26 in 2019, the London Ambulance Service (LAS) received 5,217 calls. In 2020, this increased by more than 2,500, with medics requiring support from other ambulance services in the South.

In a statement, LAS said, “Like NHS organisations across the country, demand for our services has risen sharply over the past weeks and we are not taking up to 8,000 999 calls a day, compared to 5,500 on a typical ‘busy’ day.

“Our colleagues in emergency departments are also under pressure receiving our patients as quickly as they can. We are working urgently with NHS partners to reduce any delays.”

A LAS memo said that the rising demand was down to the “rapid spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus.”

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‘One of the most challenging times for the NHS’

Cordery said that people should be “under no illusions that this is one of the most challenging times for the NHS.”

As news that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could receive approval from regulators soon, members of the public are being urged not to partake in socialising over New Year in an attempt to “curb the spread” of the virus.

Cordery said, “It is vital that everyone heeds the new rules and restrictions in the run up to the New Year and beyond.”

‘A perfect storm’

The Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties have warned that health services could be overwhelmed by any surge in Covid-19 cases, after restrictions were temporarily eased at Christmas.

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They also said that the new faster spreading strain of the virus could create a “perfect storm,” and that it could take months for vaccinations to relieve any pressure on the “severely stretched” system.

The Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties, which includes anaesthetists, GPs and surgeons, said that the short term situation for the NHS remained “bleak,” despite hopes raised by the vaccine.

In a statement, they said, “We know there is hope on the horizon with the rollout of a national immunisation programme, with further vaccines likely to be approved shortly.

“However, it will take months for this to make a significant difference, and the short term situation for the NHS and public health services remains bleak.”

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A spokesperson for the Scottish government said, “Our winter planning process includes assessing our readiness across all aspects of health and care, including Test and Protect, vaccinations, PPE supplies and the maintenance of essential services, including urgent and emergency.

“As part of the specific response to Covid-19, boards will maintain the ability to double their ICU capacity within one week, treble in two weeks, and, if required, extend this to over 700 in total across Scotland.

“In addition to this, over 60 ICU and supportive care medicines, as well as supplies of Covid-19 treatments, have been centrally procured.”

Tougher restrictions

From 26 December, mainland Scotland entered into Tier 4 restrictions for three weeks, with a similar stay at home order also implemented in Wales.

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Northern Ireland has also entered into a new six week lockdown, with its first week measures the strictest yet. There is a curfew in operation from 8pm, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 6am.

Across the East and South East of England, more than six million people entered into the highest restrictions on 26 December, called Tier 4. A review which will determine whether more areas will be placed into the highest Tier is expected on 30 December.