London intensive care patients could be sent to Yorkshire, reports suggest, as restrictions set to toughen

Patients in London’s intensive care units could be sent to Yorkshire as pressure on the capital’s hospitals reached capacity, it has been reported.

Senior intensive care sources told the Health Service Journal (HSJ) that requests had been made over recent days to transfer patients from London to several of Yorkshire’s major hospitals.

The HSJ reported the number of patients was small, and it was unclear whether the requests had been accepted.

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But it comes as medics have been describing the pressure felt on the front line, with one junior doctor saying his London hospital is “aggressively overstretched” and that he expects the situation to worsen.

A paramedic opening the rear door of one of the ambulances queued outside the Royal London Hospital, in London. Photo: PA

The doctor, who works in general medicine and wished to remain anonymous, said if the volume of Covid patients continues to increase, his hospital will need to start rationing oxygen – which he expects it will.

While local authorities in Essex declared a “major incident” as the number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm health services in the county.

The announcement was made in response to a “significant growing demand” on hospitals across the county and to enable local leaders to seek further support from the Government, the Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said.

Areas of concern include critical care and bed capacity, staff sickness, and the ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments.

On Sunday, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), part of the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, declared an “internal incident” which it said was taken “as a precautionary step due to the high number of Covid-positive patients” at the hospital.

The trust said all patients received the treatment they needed, including intensive care treatment for Covid-19 and oxygen therapy as required, and added that it is “continuing to monitor the situation to ensure that this remains the case”.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the virus outbreak this year has “really highlighted what happens when you go into a pandemic with tens and thousands of nurses short”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “We know that critical care bed occupancy is high and in some parts of the country we know that we don’t have enough staff to deliver the care, and actually we can’t even expand the bed occupancy because we can’t have enough staff to deliver care, even if we could expand it.”

Ambulances with Covid-19 patients have been seen queueing outside hospitals as the Health Secretary prepares to announce tougher restrictions amid surging cases.

Footage on social media appeared to show emergency vehicles lined up outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and Queen’s Hospital in Romford, both in east London, on Tuesday.

The College of Paramedics’ spokesman Martin Berry said first responders were under unprecedented pressure.

“The demand on the system and the people within that system is at a level we’ve never had to contend with before,” he told the BBC. “It’s utterly heartbreaking.”

A statement released by the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Queen’s Hospital, urged people to only contact ambulance services in the case of real emergencies.

“Along with the rest of the NHS, we are under considerable pressure as we look after a rising number of Covid-19 patients, some of whom are being cared for safely in ambulances before entering Queen’s Hospital,” it said.

“You can help us by calling NHS 111 if you need medical advice, and only coming to our emergency departments in a real emergency.”

Coronavirus patient numbers have reached their highest levels during the pandemic, with 51,135 further cases and 414 deaths reported on Tuesday.

The Barts Health NHS Trust, which is responsible for Royal London Hospital, said in a statement it had opened an extra coronavirus ward on Sunday.

“We are treating very high numbers of patients with Covid-19 across our hospitals, and in line with our winter escalation plan we have moved into a ‘very high pressure’ phase and taking steps to keep our patients safe,” it added in its statement on Tuesday.

Ambulances were also shown queueing outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke tweeted a photo, taken by registrar Punith Kempegowda, with the caption noting there was a “sick patient inside every one” of the vehicles.

“This is the reality of Covid – right here, right now. Hospitals are at breaking point,” Dr Clarke said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to tell the Commons today that more areas in England will be placed under the country’s toughest coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the Government’s Covid-19 Operations committee on Tuesday evening, when changes to the tier system were discussed.

Areas that may be moved from Tier 3 to Tier 4 due to increasing case rates include parts of the East Midlands, such as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, as well as all areas of the West Midlands metropolitan county.

Hartlepool in north-east England, along with a handful of areas in Lancashire – Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle and Ribble Valley – could also be upgraded from Tier 3 to 4.

The Times reported ministers are also considering imposing the country’s toughest measures on parts of the south-west and Cumbria.