THE true extent of the UK's coronavirus crisis has been revealed with harrowing NHS briefs released as the country battles its third wave.
Key figures within the NHS have warned there is a "potential risk" people will be unable to get an ambulance in their time of need, if pressure on the health service continues to increase.
Intensive care units in London hospitals could be overwhelmed in DAYS, according to leaked predictions in an NHS document.
The capitals hospitals are also less than two weeks away from being completely overwhelmed – even under the "best" case scenario, according to one of London's most senior doctors.
Many hospitals have been forced to take a dangerous detour from the usual gold standard care already – abandoning one to one care and instead enlisting one nurse to four patients.
The culmination of rising cases, dwindling staff numbers and low morale is set to be a perfect storm to completely exhaust the UK's healthcare system.
The damning figures come nearly a week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged the country back into lockdown, after a serious spike in cases over the festive period.
But it seems the restrictions may have been too little, too late, as hospital may be forced to withdraw critical care for patients.
One hospital, Darent Valley Hospital in Kent, is at Critcon 4 – is already at this level and is on the highest alert.
An NHS dashboard seen by the Health Service Journal shows that 17 other hospitals are at Critcon 3 – meaning they are at capacity and critical care areas need to be expanded.
It has not reported levels across all regions.
Doctors could be forced to choose which patients to save in a cruel "lottery", as a whopping 2,600 ICU patients are feared in the coming weeks.
Tracy Nicholls, Chief Executive at the College of Paramedics, said there has been delays of "up to 10 hours" for category three calls in high-pressure areas.
“This year particularly has seen incredible pressure because of the clinical presentation of the patients our members are seeing. They are sicker,” she explained.
She believes there "is a potential risk" to people not being able to get an ambulance if figures continue to rise.
Confidential information presented to NHS England bosses suggests there could be at least 2,300 people in intensive care in London by this time next week, based on current admission rates.
The leaked files, marked "officially sensitive and not for publication or further distribution" predicts that ICU admission rates will have more than doubled.
ICU doctors have already described being close to breaking point, and they could now face having to ventilate TWICE as many patients as at the peak of the first wave.
The documents state that 4,000 more coronavirus patients will be on wards in the capital by next Monday – at 20,000 this will exceed the numbers in beds nationally during the first wave of the pandemic.
Alternate care options are also in short supply, as intensive care units across the country continue to fill up, meaning patients cannot be transferred elsewhere.
NHS England London medical director, Vin Diwakar, told London's senior doctors that even under the best case scenario, in two weeks hospitals will be overwhelmed.
He explained that even if the number of covid patients grew at the lowest rate considered likely, all measures to manage demand and increase capacity in hospitals were enforced, and the Nightingale hospital was opened – London's NHS would still be 2,000 beds short by January 19.
“While staff are going the extra mile to care for patients it is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus,” he said.
As of January 5, the London NHS had an “unmitigated surplus” of just 46 ICU beds, three per cent of its total.
Just over 70 per cent of its ICU beds were occupied by covid positive patients.
The figures suggest senior doctors may have to turn patients away from ICU wards, as they physically cannot cope with demand.
Experienced intensive care doctors have expressed their concerns at how quickly the situation is spiralling out of control.
“The Government were warned. They tinkered with Christmas without locking down and now we are reaping the whirlwind," one said.
"WE ARE ALMOST DONE FOR"
During the first wave, it was claimed the NHS in London could ventilate up to 3,000 patients.
However, the theory has never been established – and experts say even if there is enough ventilators, there isn't enough staff.
One intensive care consultant said:" It’s not just about beds and ventilators, it’s about staff. We were 50,000 nurses down at the start of the pandemic but we somehow pulled through.
"Now we are seeing a lot of staff sickness due to the time of year and, more importantly covid, which means we are running out of bodies to care for patients.
“We did brilliantly well in the first wave. But now we are almost done for."
“The thought that we might need to ventilate 2,300 patients in the coming week is mind boggling. I don’t think we can do it.”
The best case scenario for intensive care wards is a demand of 2,000 beds – the worst case scenario being 2,600.
Doctors may be forced to administer treatment to patients that will not save their lives, due to the lack of ICU beds and staff.
Dr Stephen Webb, President of the Intensive Care Society, said the Government projections of more than 2,000 intensive care bed patents in London was "shocking".
"It's hard to contemplate such a large number. That you can have almost 1,000 one week and double the next."
He discussed how 12,000 patients had been treated in intensive care across the country since September, and 25 per cent of those were admitted within the last two weeks.
"We haven't turned any patients away yet due to lack of equipment or staff. I cannot guarantee that won't happen, but we are working to ensure that everyone who needs intensive care gets it," he said.
"The problem is staffing. It won't be normal intensive care. We have been taking doctors and nurses from other areas of a hospital, Even dental nurses have been recruited."
"We are unlikely to be able to deliver the same level of care because many of these people will come with little or no experience.
The number of coronavirus patients in hospital on Friday had rocketed by 30% from a week ago, and stood at a record 29,346.
"The pressure on the NHS is very, very bad" according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
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