The NHS is so dangerously overloaded with Covid cases doctors now fear they will soon have to decide who they can treat and who is left to die.
Hospitals across England are nearing breaking point as Covid patient numbers reach their highest levels during the pandemic, while 51,135 further cases and 414 deaths were reported on Tuesday.
Local authorities in Essex have declared a ‘major incident’, while it emerged that ICUs in London have asked major hospitals in Yorkshire to take patients in need of intensive care.
Ambulances were seen queueing outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and Queen’s Hospital in Romford, both in east London, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on Tuesday, while a junior doctor in the capital said his hospital was ‘aggressively overstretched’ by Covid patients.
Consultant anaesthetist Dr Claudia Paoloni warned the situation is so bad they are just days away from making ‘horrendous choices’.
She told the Guardian: ‘Our NHS just doesn’t have the beds to cope. Some areas will be overwhelmed in days.
‘If ventilation capacity is exceeded, horrendous choices will have to be made over those who live and die.’
She added: ‘A hospital may have to ask itself “can we do the cancer surgery today or not, as we only have limited beds and no spare intensive care capacity for emergencies if we use the last bed for a major cancer operation?”’
Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the Government’s Covid-19 Operations committee on Tuesday evening, when changes to the tier system were discussed.
With case rates rising in all regions of England, as well as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, any review is likely to involve areas moving up a tier rather than down.
Areas that may be moved from Tier 3 to Tier 4 due to increasing case rates include parts of the East Midlands, such as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, as well as all areas of the West Midlands metropolitan county.
Hartlepool in north-east England, along with a handful of areas in Lancashire – Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle and Ribble Valley – could also be upgraded from Tier 3 to 4.
The Times also reported that ministers are also considering imposing the country’s toughest measures on parts of the south west and Cumbria.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, warned ‘options were narrowing’ and that moving areas into the highest tier was necessary.
‘Pressures on the NHS in some parts of the country are rising at an unsustainable rate,’ she said
‘Thankfully, trusts in other areas have been helping out. But with the virus spreading fast alongside mounting winter pressures, the options are narrowing.
‘We urgently need to get ahead of the outbreak. The Covid-19 tier review offers an opportunity to do that.
‘It will require difficult decisions, moving millions more people to the highest level.
‘The Government must act with boldness, speed and clarity in curbing the threat of Covid-19.’
Figures from NHS England showed there were 21,787 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am on Tuesday, compared with 20,426 on Monday, and 18,974 at the first wave peak on April 12.
Five of the seven NHS regions in England are currently reporting a record number of Covid-19 hospital patients: Eastern England, London, the Midlands, south-east England and south-west England.
The other two regions, north-east and north-west England, remain below peak levels that were set in mid-November.
Meanwhile the number of further lab-confirmed cases recorded in a single day in the UK hit a new record on Tuesday, rising above 50,000 for the first time, to 53,135.
It is not possible to make direct comparisons with the level of infection during the first wave of the virus, because mass testing was only introduced in the UK in May, but it has been estimated there may have been as many 100,000 cases a day at the peak in late March and early April.
The Government said a further 414 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 71,567.
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