Seriously ill Covid patients are being moved from London hospitals to intensive care units 300 miles away in Newcastle, it has been revealed.
Hospitals in the capital are so overstretched that patients have also been moved to Birmingham, Northampton and Sheffield in recent days, according to The Guardian.
All moves are understood to be taking place in ambulances that are specially equipped to deal with patients who are medically vulnerable.
But doctors fear the long-distance journeys will put people at risk.
Dr Claudia Paoloni, president of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, told The Guardian: ‘Hospitals have already spread intensive care teams more thinly, with nurses juggling three or four seriously ill patients at a time instead of the usual one.
‘They have expanded intensive care departments into every available space and redeployed specialist staff to cope.
‘The fact that all this is not enough and they are still having to take the extraordinary step of transferring critically ill patients hundreds of miles reflects the unprecedented gravity of the situation facing our NHS.’
The UK has recorded record high levels of daily deaths and cases in recent weeks with hospitals across the country facing more Covid admissions than during the spring peak.
Hospitals that run short of ICU beds usually transfer patients to wards nearby, within the same critical care network.
Dr Paoloni said the far away moves show the situation facing the NHS is ‘exceptionally bad’ and the consequence of years of underfunding.
She said: ‘We have to be blunt. Our NHS is on the ropes because of years of understaffing, under-resourcing and the failure to call a full lockdown earlier. The lessons from the heartbreaking crisis now facing the NHS, its staff, patients and their families must be learned.’
The Guardian report said that some Covid patients in intensive care in Birmingham have been taken to Newcastle to free up beds for patients transferred from London.
Critical care doctors in Newcastle are said to be worried that the ICUs at the city’s Royal Victoria and Freeman hospitals will not be able to cope with the influx because their units are already so full.
The average daily number of people being admitted to hospitals in the UK is 4256, an increase of 35% compared to last week, according to the latest Government data.
On January 12 there were 36,797 Covid patients in hospitals – more than double the number a month ago.
On Monday Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a ‘very substantial risk’ the NHS could run out of critical care beds.
He said the strain on NHS staff was ‘colossal’ and described the situation as ‘frightening’.
‘The pressure is very considerable. If you ask me when do we think that the ICU capacity is likely to be overtopped, I can’t give you a prediction for that,’ he told the Commons Liaison Committee.
‘But all I can say is that the risk is very substantial and we have to keep the pressure off the NHS and the only way to do that is to follow the current lockdown.’
Metro.co.uk has contacted NHS England and the Department for Health for comment
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