Hospitals in some parts of England are now treating more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the pandemic, NHS bosses have said.
The number of patients being admitted is “rising sharply”, NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said, with some hospitals in Liverpool, Lancashire and Nottingham treating more coronavirus patients than they did in April.
It comes after one expert warned there could be “high levels” of Covid cases, demand on health care and deaths until next spring.
Professor Neil Ferguson, the scientist whose modelling prompted the UK-wide lockdown in March, told the PA news agency that measures in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas of England are “unlikely to cause daily cases and deaths to fall rapidly”.
He said modelling suggests this could leave the country with high caseloads for several months.
And former chief scientific adviser to the Government Professor Sir Mark Walport said the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 could more than double within weeks, adding it is “not unrealistic” to say there could be 25,000 people in hospital by the end of November.
Prof Powis said: “Hospitals have local and regional plans in place to respond to additional demand, and the NHS has prepared carefully – we also have new life-saving treatments, better understand the oxygen treatments, and survival rates in intensive care have increased.
“We have a landmark deal with the independent sector and we have asked the Nightingales in the north to prepare to mobilise and be ready to care for patients when needed, with the Manchester Nightingale accepting patients.
“However, coronavirus cases and hospitalised patients are rising sharply and in some parts of the country including Liverpool, Lancashire and Nottingham, hospitals are now treating more Covid patients than at the peak of the pandemic in April.
“Hospitals in Paris and Madrid are once again having to postpone operations, which is a salutary reminder that keeping the virus under control is both the key to saving lives and ensuring uninterrupted health services, because hospitals’ ability to provide non-urgent operations partly depends on not having to divert staff and beds to care for severely ill coronavirus patients.
“So it is vital that everyone does what they can to control the virus, particularly by following the Government guidelines as social distancing is the first line of defence, followed by the Test and Trace programme.
“As we work to minimise the spread of the virus, we continue to urge people to continue to attend NHS appointments, routine screening, and if you need urgent care, please help us to help you and come forward for care.”
Some hospitals have announced measures including cancelling surgery to cope with additional pressures from the virus, and Nightingale hospitals in northern England were put on standby earlier this month as a result of rising cases.
A spokesperson for the NHS in the North West said: “The NHS Nightingale Hospital North West will accept patients from today to provide care for those who do not have Covid-19, but do need further support before they are able to go home, such as therapy and social care assessments.”
In Leeds, health officials said only essential operations will go ahead at hospitals in the city after the number of Covid-19 patients passed the totals treated at the peak of the first wave.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust – which runs Leeds General Infirmary and St James’s Hospital – said it is postponing some planned operations due to pressures.
Four cancer operations were cancelled in Nottingham on Tuesday, the Independent reported.
Nottingham University Hospitals Trust said pressure on intensive care units from Covid-19 and non-Covid related emergencies meant it needed to postpone the procedures.
Airedale Hospital, near Keighley, West Yorkshire, said it is suspending non-urgent surgery for two weeks.
It said in a statement: “We are seeing increasing demand on the hospital which is in turn meaning that our inpatient beds are at capacity.
“As a result, and as per our escalation plans, we have taken the decision to postpone any elective surgery that needs an overnight stay. This comes into effect immediately for the next two weeks.”
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust has said “some procedures and non inpatient activity will have to be postponed” to manage “large numbers of very sick patients” across its three main sites.
The trust said cancelling any procedure is regrettable but necessary in response to “the sustained and growing pressures on our hospitals”.
It added that patients with “urgent clinical needs and cancer” are being prioritised.
Overall in England there are 7,454 people in hospital with Covid-19.
The number in north-west England, as of October 26, stood at 2,407 – the highest since April 23 and not far below the peak of the first wave, which was 2,890 on April 13.
In north-east England and Yorkshire, the latest total is 1,962. This is the highest since April 28.
By contrast, in the Midlands the total on October 26 stood at 1,203 – less than half the peak of the first wave – 3,101 on April 10.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Northern Ireland are treating more people with Covid-19 than during the first peak of the pandemic.
According to official statistics, there are 360 inpatients – the highest in the first wave was 322 on April 8.
The October 26 data shows there were 1,052 people in hospital beds in Scotland with Covid-19 and 654 in Wales.
Susan Crossland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told PA: “There are real concerns that the NHS is starting to struggle across the country now and that is worrying considering the workforce has not really recovered from the first peak earlier in the year.
“We now see Covid rotas coming into play which means redeployment for some staff – especially juniors – and more intense working arrangements for senior clinicians which will increase pressure greatly on those already stressed.”