The NHS will not all of a sudden topple over, says a seasoned observer. It’s not what happens to overstretched health systems, not least a national service which can, for a time at least, transfer weight from one limb to another. Much more likely is that it will gradually “bleed out” over a period of a month or more if large parts become overwhelmed.
That moment has not yet arrived and may still be avoided but, be in no doubt, the haemorrhaging has already started. In London, you would be ill-advised to climb a stepladder, let alone get on a motorbike given the level of demand in the capital’s hospitals.
For category three admissions – those that are urgent, but not immediately life-threatening – the wait for a hospital bed now stretches to 30 hours, says the city’s ambulance service.
More worrying, national data released on Friday by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (INARC), shows ICU admissions for heart attack and stroke have fallen sharply in recent weeks, suggesting many are not getting the help they require.
“It’s implausible to think that these have been misclassified as Covid as the symptoms are so clear, particularly in an ICU setting”, says the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group. “The concern is that people are failing to present, as happened in April”.
A drowning person closes off blood oxygen supplies to their extremities in a bid to survive, and so it is with health systems that are struggling to cope.
Although there has been no national edict as there was last Spring, large parts of the NHS in London and the south-east are now closing their doors to regular business. In London, where the mayor declared a “major incident” on Friday, hundreds of cancer operations have already been cancelled.