Frontline health workers are “back in the eye of the storm”, as England’s hospitals deal with more Covid-19 patients than during the April peak of the first wave.
The warning from NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens comes as figures from NHS England show there were 20,426 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am on Monday, compared with the 18,974 patients recorded on 12 April.
Doctors are raising the alarm about “very, very busy” services – with one NHS trust calling for volunteers to help prone patients.
In London, cases have soared to nearly 5,000 patients – a 47 per cent increase in a week, and up more than 200 per cent since the end of the second national lockdown at the start of December.
Hospitals across the capital have declared major incidents and cancelled operations – while ambulances have been delayed for up to six hours outside some A&E units, The Independent reported.
One hospital – the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich – has been forced to declare a major incident over fears about an oxygen shortage, caused by the demand from Covid-19 patients on its wards.
Sir Simon said: “Many of us have lost family, friends, colleagues and – at a time of year when we would normally be celebrating – a lot of people are understandably feeling anxious, frustrated and tired.
“And now, again, we are back in the eye of the storm with a second wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe and, indeed, this country.”
‘Wear a mask’
One nurse, who has been caring for Covid patients, told The Independent that the last few weeks had been extremely difficult.
“The pressures have been rising. Just before Christmas the trust started asking people to come in more. Everyday I wake up and there are messages saying they need people to come in to work, it’s crazy.
“We end up not having breaks because there isn’t enough time to fit everything in. You try to keep your patients safe but that comes at the cost of not having breaks. We try to have our lunch but sometimes that’s spent at the computer doing notes. It is exhausting, I’ve not been sleeping well.”
Asked what she would want to tell the public, the nurse said: “Wear a mask and try not to travel as much. When I finish a shift and get on the tube I see lots of people who sit there and take their mask off or put it below their nose, it’s really disheartening when you’ve just been nursing Covid patients for 12 hours.”
The escalating situation at hospitals across the capital in particular has sparked calls from scientists for a tightening of national restrictions to tackle the new variant of the virus that is responsible for the rapid increase in cases.
Professor Andrew Hayward, of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said widespread Tier 4 restrictions – or even higher – are likely to be needed as the country moves towards “near-lockdown”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we’re going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.
“A 50 per cent increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won’t work now, and so Tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that.
“I think we’re really looking at a situation where we’re moving into near-lockdown, but we’ve got to learn the lessons from the first lockdown.”