Medics fear hospitals will be unable to cope over next six months, survey finds

Three-quarters of medics in urgent and acute care believe hospitals are not prepared to cope over the next six months, research has found.

The survey by the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM) comes as a council leader in Liverpool warned the city’s intensive care units are currently more than 90% full and bed occupancy levels are soon expected to reach those seen during the first wave of Covid-19.

Seventy per cent of members of SAM, which represents clinicians working in acute medical units across the UK who specialise in emergencies, said they would not be able to provide the level of care they would want to over the next six months.

Liverpool City Region is the only part of England currently under the toughest Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions, with the closure of pubs and bars and bans on socialising.

Paul Brant, cabinet member for adult health and social care at Liverpool City Council, said intensive care capacity in the city is more than 90% full, with Covid-19 patients making up an increasing proportion of patients.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Our intensive, critical care beds are filling up very fast.

“The most recent figures I’ve seen suggest they are over 90% full and our acute hospital trusts have occupancy levels of Covid-positive patients of over 250.

“At the current rate of increase, we would expect Liverpool to surpass the peak of the first wave probably within the next seven to 10 days.”

Addressing the intensive care situation, he added: “They are not all Covid patients, I should say, but they are running very full and they are running with an increasing number of people who are Covid-positive.

“It has become clear that the intensity of the demand on hospital services here in Liverpool is crowding out anything other than dealing with Covid.”

Dr Nick Scriven, a past president of SAM, said the NHS is already at a “tipping point” with rising Covid-19 admissions and this is “before we get anywhere near the routine challenges of winter” such as flu, norovirus and other respiratory illnesses.

Dr Scriven said this, alongside a lack of additional Government funding to boost acute medicine over winter and compromised same-day emergency care (SDEC) units, lay at the root of concerns among the 210 SAM medics who answered the survey.

SDEC units are facilities which are designed to help ease pressures on emergency departments and bed capacity by providing urgent care without the need for overnight admission.

Dr Scriven said some skilled nurses and doctors have been redeployed to other clinical areas due to their high-level skills around emergency care and specialist patient support.

On Tuesday, other hospitals in the UK announced they were having to stop routine operations to deal with Covid-19 patients.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust said it is temporarily pausing non-critical planned surgery at Derriford Hospital, although day case procedures are still going ahead.

Victoria Eaton, Leeds director of public health, said hospitals in the city are “very close” to having to strip back non-Covid services, and areas may struggle for staff to fill Nightingale hospitals put on standby.

Swansea Bay University Health Board said all routine planned cardiac surgery at Morriston Hospital has been temporarily suspended following a localised outbreak of the virus.

Ten patients and five staff have tested positive over the last few days, most within cardiac services, it added.

In Northern Ireland, Belfast Health Trust has cancelled all elective procedures this week to cope with a rise of Covid-19 cases being admitted to hospitals.

On Monday, Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Steve Warburton told staff in a memo that it had reached a “critical point”.

He said the trust is scaling back planned procedures, adding it is “taking a phased approach to reducing our elective programme, while exploring options with other providers to maintain some of this work in alternative locations”.