Critically ill patients moved to hospitals hundreds of miles away

Critically ill patients are transferred to hospitals hundreds of miles away because local intensive care units are full – as Britain suffers its highest daily death toll since April

  • Britain recorded 981 coronavirus deaths yesterday, highest daily toll since April
  • Hospitals in London asked NHS colleagues in Yorkshire to take unwell patients
  • Officials have asked military to step in to build and staff community hospitals 

Britain recorded 981 coronavirus deaths yesterday – the highest daily toll since April.

The sobering figure – which brought the total number who have died to 72,548 – came as critically ill patients were transferred to hospitals hundreds of miles away because local intensive care units were full.

Hospitals in London have asked NHS colleagues in Yorkshire to take some of the most seriously unwell patients as they have reached capacity.

The UK recorded 50,023 new cases yesterday. The nation’s daily death toll was the highest since April 24, when 1,010 were reported, although it may be partly due to a lag in reporting fatalities over Christmas.

10.51am – Into hospital: A patient is wheeled into Queen’s in Romford, Essex, yesterday by paramedics

A major incident was also declared in Essex. Medics at Queen’s Hospital in Romford had to treat patients stuck in several ambulances queueing outside.

At one point a patient was stretchered into the hospital for treatment, only to be brought back out 18 minutes later. The patient then spent just six minutes in the ambulance, before being carried back into the hospital.

Buckinghamshire also declared a major incident last night. Council leader Martin Tett said case rates could rise close to 800 people per 100,000 ‘by next week’, adding: ‘Of real concern is that this increase is also being seen in our older age groups.’

Officials have asked the military to step in to build and staff community hospitals to cope with additional capacity, as well as help with the vaccine rollout and testing in schools.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday admitted the NHS was ‘under very significant pressure’. He urged the public to take collective responsibility, adding: ‘Ultimately it is about how we all behave, that is how we get through the next few weeks together and then the vaccine can come and save us.’

11.09am – Back out: Just 18 minutes later, the same patient is carried back out of the hospital because the ward was too full

Mr Hancock confirmed patients in worst-hit areas were being moved to less busy hospitals. He told MPs: ‘One of the advantages of having a national health system is when one area of the country faces particular challenges, others can come to its mutual aid.’

Internal NHS figures revealed many intensive care units had well above the maximum number of patients. The occupancy rate in London was 114 per cent on Monday. It was 113 per cent in the South East.

This prompted the requests by the unnamed London hospital trusts to transfer patients to quieter hospitals in Yorkshire, said the Health Service Journal. Five of the seven NHS regions in England are reporting record numbers of Covid patients: Eastern England, London, the Midlands, the South East and the South West. The other two regions, the North East and North West, remain below peak levels set in mid-November.

Covid patients typically spend over a month in hospital, compared to a week for flu.

David Strain, co-chairman of the British Medical Association’s medical academic staff committee, said patients who need to stay on wards for this long often require ‘a month’s worth of rehabilitation’ before they can be discharged.

11.15am – and back in: After an additional six minutes in the ambulance space is found inside the hospital and the patient is brought back inside by the paramedics

More than 23,000 are in UK hospitals with coronavirus, more than at the peak in April. Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt questioned the decision to reopen schools given the strain on the health service. He said: ‘Why in the middle of winter when the NHS is under such pressure, when we have a dangerous new strain of the virus, are we taking such huge risks?’

A health service spokesman said: ‘The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to manage significant pressure either from high Covid-19 infection rates or non-Covid winter demands and this has always included mutual aid practices whereby hospitals work together to manage admissions. It is vital that people continue to follow government guidance.’

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