Coronavirus: NHS England to move to highest alert level from midnight after rise in ICU patients

NHS England is going to move to its highest alert level from midnight tonight.

The health service’s chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said the move to level four was in response to a “serious situation ahead” amid a rise in coronavirus patients needing intensive care.

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There are “22 hospitals’ worth” of COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England, he said.

Four incident levels are used across the NHS, with level four meaning NHS England will take over coordination of the health service’s response to the pandemic, in collaboration with local commissioners.

The general public will not see any difference if they use the NHS, but it means the overarching NHS England body has had to take over to ensure all services are supported appropriately.

Last time level four was needed was at the start of the pandemic, before it was moved down to level three in July.

Sir Simon said there had been a “very substantial” increase in “desperately sick patients in hospitals” in October.

“In many parts of the country we’re now seeing more coronavirus inpatients in hospital and in intensive care than we saw in the first peak in April,” he said.

The NHS wants to “minimise” coronavirus “spiralling out of control” so other services are not disrupted, he added.

“The facts are clear, we are once again facing a serious situation. This is not a situation that anybody wanted to find themselves in, the worst pandemic in a century, but the fact is that the NHS is here.

“The public can help us help you so our fantastic staff – our nurses, our doctors, our paramedics – can get on with looking after you and your family there when you need it.”

The NHS England boss also said he believed the UK should “hopefully” get one or more COVID-19 vaccines in the first part of next year.

“In anticipation of that we’re also gearing the NHS up to be ready to make a start on administering COVID vaccines before Christmas, if they become available,” he said.

“We reached an agreement with GPs to ensure they will be doing that, and we’ll be writing to GP practices this week to get them geared up to start by Christmas if the vaccine becomes available.”

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Sir Simon said he supported the government’s four week lockdown, due to start on Thursday, and said it would mean the health service should be able to avoid postponing routine operations.

The government is expected to comfortably win a Commons vote on the restrictions as Labour are backing them – despite a number of Tory rebels saying they will vote against the measures.

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