London Hospitals Face ‘Tsunami’ of Patients, Could Be Overwhelmed in ‘Days’

A member of the ambulance service wearing personal protective equipment is seen leading a patient (unseen) into an ambulance at St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 24, 2020. - Britain's leaders on Tuesday urged people to respect an unprecedented countrywide lockdown, saying that following advice to stay at home …

The chief executive of a body which represents hospital bosses has said that London facilities are facing a “continuous tsunami” of coronavirus patients, and that the city’s hospitals could be overwhelmed in “days”.

Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers which speaks for those who run Britain’s hospitals, said that even though London hospitals have increased critical care capacity from between five- and sevenfold in just two weeks, they are still “struggling”.

“They are struggling with two things: first is the explosion of demand they’re seeing in seriously ill patients. They’re saying it’s the number of patients that are arriving, the speed with which they are arriving, and how ill they are,” Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.

He continued that while “most of them are hanging on” his contacts in London’s hospitals “talk about wave, after wave, after wave. The word that is often used to me is a continuous ‘tsunami’. I think as one [hospital] CEO said to me yesterday, ‘This is much bigger and much larger numbers with a greater degree of stretch than you could ever possibly have imagined.'”

The second issue is staff sickness, with some facilities seeing 50 per cent of medics struck down by coronavirus or self-isolating with symptoms.

He added that even with thousands more ventilators said to be coming down the pipeline in the next couple of weeks, at present that lack of availability is a “real issue” in London hospitals.

On Wednesday, Mr Hobson had tweeted that the sharp increase in demand for coronavirus treatment in London was already “off the scale”, saying: “It’s evident that a number of hospitals are on a trajectory where their critical care capacity will become full within a few days.

“CEOs report that the NHS London Regional team is working well, and hard, with them to agree the next steps to follow when this happens.”

The government announced earlier this week that the ExCeL convention centre would be turned into a 4,000-bed coronavirus field hospital — NHS Hospital Nightingale — with the first 500 beds expected to be available by next week. The United Kingdom is currently two to three weeks behind Italy, meaning the worst of the effects of the pandemic are yet to come.

Should London hospitals become overwhelmed, patients will likely be transferred and treated at the Nightingale site. Reports from Thursday claim that the Ministry of Defence, which is helping to coordinate the National Health Service response, is scoping out between five and 13 other sites across the country for field hospitals.

While Mr Hopson paints a worrying picture of London, overall government officials have said that the NHS should be “within capacity” to cope with the worst, thanks to lockdown measures and plans to increase intensive care unit capacity.

The government has also brought nearly 12,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals out of recent retirement to the front lines, and 5,500 final-year student doctors and 18,700 final year nursing students have also been advanced to practical support.

However, even with a greater number of healthcare professionals, the problem remains, as mentioned by Mr Hopson, of staff sickness. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said during the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday that the government is trialling a test for coronavirus antibodies, which if successful could help determine if NHS staff in isolation can return to work. The tests may later be available for public use.

The number of deaths in Britain from coronavirus have risen to 477, with the highest number — 414 — in England.

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