A fifth of all critical care units in England were full last week, NHS figures show as the number of Covid patients in hospital continued to spiral.
Some 27 of 140 major NHS trusts had no space on the specialist wards, designed to care for the most seriously ill patients who need constant monitoring, on January 10. And 12 had no space at all throughout that week.
Six were in the North East and Yorkshire, which mostly dodged Tier 4 before the third lockdown, while five were in the South East and Midlands, four were in the South West and London, and two were in the East of England and North West.
An interactive tool developed by MailOnline allows readers to check the situation in their local hospital, showing how full critical care beds are alongside general & acute (G&A) – the mainstay beds in hospitals – and how many Covid-19 patients are being cared for by each trust.
No hospitals in the country had all their G&A beds full over the seven days to January 10, and only six were busier than the second week of January last year, but hospital bosses have ramped up the number of beds to ensure they can treat surging numbers of patients and social distancing means even less full hospitals are under more strain.
It comes after ‘calamitous’ figures published today revealed the NHS waiting list for routine operations – including hip replacements and heart surgery – had surged to record levels by December.
NHS England data shows 4.46million people were waiting for the operations. Of these, almost 200,000 had been on the list for more than a year, the highest number since records began in 2007 and 140 times more than in 2019.
Separate figures, also published today by the NHS, showed critical care units were 40 per cent more full in the second week of January than last year. Almost 800 patients were forced to wait in ambulances for more than an hour in hospital car parks before being admitted to emergency wards.
Top medics said the figures paint a picture of the ‘calamitous impact’ of the pandemic on the health service and warned a ‘huge, hidden waiting list’ was building up during lockdown.
But in a glimmer of hope, figures released by the Government appear to suggest hospitalisations in London and the South East have peaked, in an early sign the second wave could be beginning to lose steam.
Total admissions remain high, however, with the University Hospitals Birmingham trust saying today it would suspend kidney transplants due to Covid admissions.
The trusts without any space on their critical care units by January 10 included University Hospitals Birmingham in the Midlands, which had all 147 beds filled, and Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals in the South East, where patients were occupying all 66 of its beds.
In London, Lewisham and Greenwich hospitals had all 51 of their beds filled, and in the North East and Yorkshire, all 75 beds were in use at Leeds Teaching Hospital.
There were 12 hospital trusts that had no intensive care space all week, with an average occupancy rate of 100 per cent – these were not all the same as the ones that were full on January 10.
WHICH HOSPITALS HAD NO SPACE IN CRITICAL CARE ON JANUARY 10?
- Airedale NHS Foundation Trust
- Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
- Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust
- Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust
- George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust
- Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust
- Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
- Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust
- Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
- Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust
- Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust
- Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
- South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust
- The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
- University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust
- University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust
- Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Whittington Health NHS Trust
When hospitals’ critical care wards fill up they must either commandeer other parts of the hospital to use for intensive care, if they have enough space, equipment and staff to do so, or send some of the sickest patients to other hospitals nearby.
In general beds, the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust in the North West was closest to having all of its beds full.
There were 339 patients in 347 beds, taking it to 98 per cent capacity.
The Whittington Health Hospitals, in London, Mid Yorkshire Trust, Lewisham and Greenwich Trust, and Croydon Health Services were all 97 per cent full.
Hospitalisations from Covid-19 began to surge in late December and have continued rising in most areas into the new year.
A record 32,202 people were in hospital with the virus across England on Tuesday, January 12, which was 70 per cent more than the first wave’s peak of 18,974 on April 12.
It takes about two weeks for someone who is infected with the virus to become ill enough to be admitted to hospital, meaning there is a delay between a rise in cases and a rise in hospitalisations.
It emerged earlier that hospitals across England are being told to open hundreds more intensive care beds so they can take in non-Covid patients from hotspot areas.
A letter sent by NHS England bosses to dozens of trusts has ordered them to open the emergency capacity by tomorrow in a bid to take pressure off the worst-hit hospitals to keep vital treatment up and running.
If the Midlands starts to become overwhelmed then it may be able to transfer patients to Yorkshire and the North East. Patients in the South East will be moved into the central south and South West.
Heath chiefs say the network approach is the most efficient way to share the burden and may keep travel distances shorter, meaning better safety for patients.
Most hospitals have beds that go unused because there are not enough staff to man them. Covid social distancing rules have meant that more beds than normal were not allowed to be used.
Under the emergency plans, hospitals helping to share the burden of Covid will be allowed to go over their maximum bed capacity.
But more staff will be needed to man the beds, so it’s likely that planned operations and non-emergency care will be postponed even longer.
The letter, from the NHSE Midlands regional team, said there had been calls from national leaders for the region to surge beyond its own needs to support London and the East of England.
There are currently 632 ICU beds in Midlands hospitals. Under the plans, this will be increased to 876.
Despite hospitals being under crippling pressure from Covid patients in many parts of the country, there have been early suggestions that hospitalisations may have already peaked in the South East and London while slowing in the East of England. The three regions were first to be plunged into Tier 4 restrictions.
Department of Health statistics show daily admissions in the capital hit their high point on January 6 — on day two of the shutdown — when the seven-day average stood at 864. It dropped to 845 the following day. In the South East, hospitalisations also peaked on January 6 when they reached 662.
And in the East of England — which was plunged into the highest bracket of restrictions at the same time — they had started to level off by January 4 but have not yet started to fall.
But even as admissions have slowed across the capital and in regions first plunged into the toughest bracket, the overall number of patients in hospital is still rising because the number of new cases needing treatment each day is still high. Almost 36,500 infected Britons were receiving NHS care in January 11 — the most recent day figures are available for.
Figures published today show the NHS was already under severe pressure in November as waiting lists ran to record lengths. It is likely to have grown further in December.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: ‘In November, a record number of patients were waiting for hospital treatment,’ he said.
‘For thousands of people in this country, a corrective operation is the best way to relieve debilitating pain and get them back up on their feet, back to work and enjoying life again.
‘Many of us were complaining about the pain of the lockdown restrictions in November.
‘However, we should remember all those people waiting for an operation, who had their physical pain to deal with, on top of the pain of lockdown.’
Reacting to the findings today, Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘This data shows exactly how dire things are with millions of people waiting to start hospital treatment and 330,000 people waiting more than six weeks for key diagnostic tests, so the effects of Covid-19 will been seen for years to come and the impact on many individuals could be irreparable.
‘But what is of particular note and concern for us in urgent care is that the attendances at emergency departments were higher than the peak in April and this data is well before the effects of the current wave will be seen – and this is against a backdrop of many hospitals being at capacity now.
‘So whether you look at the here and now or the future, the challenges are truly daunting.’
In a glimmer of hope amid some of the NHS’s darkest times in history, there were more tentative signs the UK is turning the tide on coronavirus today with figures showing infections were falling in every age group except the over-80s last week – and cases were dropping in all but three English regions.
The latest Public Health England surveillance update also found that infections were decreasing in all regions except the North West, South West and West Midlands in the week up to January 10.
Although the case rates remain high, it suggests that the escalation of the tiering system was already having an effect on the outbreak, as the blanket England-wide lockdown did not begin until January 4.
Separate modelling by Cambridge University scientists — whose warnings of 4,000 deaths a day spooked No10 into imposing England’s second lockdown — bolstered claims that the original restrictions were working, saying cases began to drop on December 21. The team also believe deaths will peak ‘over the coming days’.
The findings will be welcome news for Boris Johnson, who is set to hold off tightening the rules despite soaring deaths and Nicola Sturgeon imposing extra curbs in Scotland.
As the death toll mounted, science chief Sir Patrick Vallance warned last night that the UK is in for a ‘pretty grim period’ as fatalities will not fall for ‘some weeks’ and the NHS is under serious pressure. But he also indicated that the case rate was more encouraging, with a series of week-on-week falls.
London continues to have the highest rate of any region, at 864.9 per 100,000 people, down from 1,043.9 in the previous week. Yorkshire & the Humber still has the lowest case rate at 297.2, down from 309.9.
In another positive sign, the proportion of positive tests declined in the week up to January 10. According to PHE, test positivity was 13.3 per cent last week, down from 17.5 per cent. Test positivity is a crucial way to monitor the outbreak because it takes into account fluctuations in the number of swabs carried out each day.
But despite the positive trends in cases, the PHE surveillance report found hospitalisations, ICU admissions and mortality continued to increase.
The three-week lag between someone catching Covid and falling seriously ill means these figures are likely to climb for another fortnight.