LONDON: Hospitals in the south of England say they have seen a “real rise in pressure” as the number of Covid patients needing treatment increases.
Saturday was described as one of London Ambulance Service’s busiest in history amid the rapid spread of a new variant.
The service and at least two others have urged people to call 999 only if there is a serious emergency. The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said she saw “wall to wall Covid” at one London hospital.
Dr Katherine Henderson told BBC Breakfast there was a “great deal of difficulty” getting patients into wards on Christmas Day.
She added: “The chances are that we will cope, but we cope at a cost – the cost is not doing what we had hoped, which is being able to keep non-Covid activities going.
“It is always challenging in winter, nobody would say that it wasn’t, but at the moment the level of patient need is incredibly high.”
The chief executive of Homerton hospital in east London urged people to comply with the tier four restrictions in force.
On Sunday, some 30,501 infections and 316 deaths were recorded in the UK.
But the true scale will be higher, as Scotland is not releasing data around deaths between 24 and 28 December, while Northern Ireland is not providing either case or death data. There were 21,286 people in hospital with coronavirus across the UK on December 22 – the last day for which data is available – according to official government figures.
The BBC has been told the London Ambulance Service (LAS) received as many emergency calls on 26 December as it did at the height of the first wave of Covid-19. The 7,918 calls it received was up more than 2,500 on the same day last year. An LAS memo said the rising demand was down to the “rapid spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus”.
Figures seen by the BBC show at one London hospital on Sunday morning, ambulance crews were typically waiting nearly six hours to hand over patients to staff. One paramedic told the BBC that some patients had been treated in ambulance bays because of a shortage of beds and staff were finding the whole situation “very stressful”.
Infection rates in England are currently highest in areas of Essex, London and other parts of the South East. Parts of Essex have recorded the highest weekly coronavirus case rates since the pandemic began. In the week leading up to 21 December, Brentwood, Epping Forest and Thurrock all had rates of more than 1,350 cases per 100,000 people.
It comes as 24 million people – or 43% of England’s population – are now living under the harshest tier four rules after more than six million people in east and south-east England went into the highest level of restrictions on Saturday. The rules include a “stay-at-home” order.