Essex has today declared a ‘major incident’ as the number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm health services in the county as UK hospitals run low on staff, beds and oxygen.
Councils and health chiefs have warned of ‘significant growing demand’ on hospitals across the county and will enable local leaders to seek further support from the Government, the Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said.
In came as UK medics in areas worst affected by the surging number of coronavirus cases are just days away from having to make ‘horrendous choices’ over who they can treat and who is left to die.
The ERF – which is made up of members of the NHS, emergency services and local authorities – said the number of patients in Essex receiving treatment for coronavirus had now increased to levels exceeding those seen at the peak of the first wave.
It added that such numbers were expected to increase further in the coming days and that cases were particularly high in Mid and South Essex, with Southend University Hospital begging staff to cancel leave and return to work to help cope with rising demand.
Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals have warned that the number of Covid patients has ‘increased markedly, putting severe pressure on emergency departments’, cancelling non-urgent operations.
Southend University Hospital in Essex has been begging staff to cancel leave and return to work to help cope with rising demand
Basildon is among the Essex hospitals that have warned the number of Covid patients has ‘increased markedly, putting severe pressure on emergency departments’
Areas of concern included critical care and bed capacity, staff sickness and the ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments.
Anthony McKeever, executive lead for Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, said: ‘We are taking every action possible within the NHS and across the wider health and social care partnerships in Essex to limit the impact on the NHS and the wider health system.
‘This involves using critical care capacity elsewhere in Essex and the Eastern region and identifying additional locations and capacity to assist with the discharging of patients to reduce pressure on hospitals.
‘Our strong working relationships mean we are able to respond effectively to support our local communities.
‘I would also like to pay tribute to all those hard-working colleagues who are working tirelessly to support our communities across the system. They are all doing an amazing job in extremely difficult circumstances.’
Chief constable of Essex Police and co-chair of the Essex Local Resilience Forum, BJ Harrington, said: ‘Declaring a major incident enables us to seek further support from the Government to address the severe pressures which the health system is under because of Covid-19.
‘The people of Essex have been magnificent and are only dialling 999 or attending A&E in an emergency – we need this to continue because this will help protect the very limited capacity available at our hospitals.’
The situation in hospitals reaching breaking point with record Covid admissions continued to deteriorate yesterday, with ambulances queuing and many intensive care units operating well over their capacity.
It emerged certain London ICUs have asked major hospitals in Yorkshire, more than 150 miles to the north, if they will agree to take some patients.
With beds, staff and equipment all running low, consultant anaesthetist Dr Claudia Paoloni warned the situation was just days away from reaching the point where care would be rationed.
Dr Paoloni, president of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, told The Guardian: ‘Our NHS just doesn’t have the beds to cope. Some areas will be overwhelmed in days. If ventilation capacity is exceeded, horrendous choices will have to be made over those who live and die.’
She added that other life determining choices will also have to be made, including which patients to admit to intensive care and how long to continue treatments on patients who appear to be making no progress, if for example a patient with better chances of survival needs the haemodialysis machine they are using.
Leaked figures revealed that England’s critical care capacity is now running at over 100 per cent at a number of hospitals across London, the south east, and east, the Health Service Journal reports.
It is not known when patients will be transferred out of the capital, or if Yorkshire’s hospitals will agree to take them. NHS critical care patients are rarely transferred such long distances.
A senior intensive care source confirmed to HSJ that a lack of capacity in the Tier 4 capital had seen a number of requests for patients to be transferred to hospitals in Tier 3 Yorkshire.
Data from the internal NHS critical care capacity dashboard – leaked to HSJ – showed that London had far surpassed its maximum capacity with intensive care units 114 per cent full on Monday night.
The south east was not far behind with ICUs at 113 per cent capacity. In the east of England the leaked capacity data shows units running at 100 per cent.
In each region mentioned over 60 per cent of the patients filling ICUs were suffering from Covid-19.
The surge past 100 per cent capacity will see ICUs struggle to cope by redeploying staff from other hospital services.
Another image taken from the NHS critical care dashboard and leaked to HSJ revealed that the number of covid-19 patients in London’s intensive care units has doubled in the last two weeks from 300 to 636.