London hospitals see record number of patients on ventilators amid rise in Covid admissions

Ross Lydall
·3 min read
<p>The London Ambulance Service received almost 200,000 calls in December</p> (REUTERS)

The London Ambulance Service received almost 200,000 calls in December

(REUTERS)

The extreme pressure on London’s NHS was laid bare today as latest figures showed an increase in Covid admissions and a record number of patients on ventilators.

The London Ambulance Service received almost 200,000 calls in December, up 50,000 on the previous month, and crews were more than an hour to respond to thousands of appeals for help.

The LAS is under such pressure that 75 Metropolitan police officers are being trained as emergency ambulance drivers — in addition to 100 London firefighters already assisting paramedics.

A total of 7,686 Covid inpatients were being treated in the capital’s hospital’s on Wednesday and admissions were increasing by almost 800 a day.

There were 1,138 on ventilators in London hospitals — the highest figure recorded during the pandemic.

There were also 19,449 hospital beds occupied in the capital, almost 7,000 more than normal for the time of year.

The pressure on the NHS led to a record 4.46 million people waiting to start hospital treatment in England at the end of November 2020, the highest number since records began.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “Today’s figures show the calamitous impact of Covid-19 on wait times for operations.”

He warned that a “huge hidden waiting list” was building up under lockdown. “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,” he said.

The number of A&E attendances was down 32 per cent year-on-year as patients steered clear of hospitals amid fears of contracting Covid.

However, attendance is still 50 per cent higher than during the first peak in April, with half a million more people seeking emergency help in England.

Today’s NHS England figures also showed that the number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment in England stood at 192,169 in November, the highest number since May 2008.

LAS chief executive Garrett Emmerson said police officers were being trained to drive ambulances and in basic life-saving skills to enable more emergency vehicles to be put on the road. The officers will accompany a trained paramedic.

He told LBC: “We have been under extreme pressure as a service over the last few weeks.”

The data also reveals that LAS was able to answer only 151,000 of 198,524 calls last month before the caller hung up, probably due to the time being taken to get through — an average of 38 seconds.

It narrowly missed the seven-minute target for reaching the most serious life-threatening emergencies, taking an average of 30 seconds more.

But for second category calls, such as stroke patients, which should receive a response within 18 minutes, crews were taking an average of 44 minutes, 30 minutes longer than November.

Category three calls were taking one hour 41 minutes and category four calls almost three hours.

Mr Emmerson said the LAS had “more than enough vehicles” but revealed that 13-14 per cent of its workforce was off sick or isolating. About 70 staff are also shielding long-term.

He said staff were being given a vaccine “as fast as we can” but appealed to people to only call 999 in an emergency.

NHS England said cancer treatment and referrals were “back to usual levels”, with more than 25,000 starting treatment in November and more than 200,000 people referred for checks. Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “These figures are a stark reminder that the NHS is facing an exceptionally tough challenge.”

He added: “For every Covid patient in hospital, the NHS is treating three people for other conditions — there is no doubt that services will continue to be under additional pressure until and unless this virus is under control, which is why it’s so important that everyone follows national guidance.”

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