Ambulances carrying Covid-19 patients were pictured queueing outside hospitals in England, as scientists called for a third national lockdown due to increasing pressure on the NHS.
Footage on social media showed emergency vehicles lined up outside the the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, Queen’s Hospital in Romford, east London, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
An A&E doctor who captured one image in Birmingham said that the ambulances had been “waiting with patients inside for more than three hours because there’s no place in hospital to bring them in.”
It came as the London Ambulance Service sent text messages to many people living in the capital to alert them that they were “extremely busy”. It read: “Please support our staff by only calling 999 in an emergency. If you feel unwell and it is not an emergency please call your GP.”
The College of Paramedics’ spokesman Martin Berry said first responders were under unprecedented pressure.
“The demand on the system and the people within that system is at a level we’ve never had to contend with before,” he told the BBC. “It’s utterly heartbreaking.”
Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Queen’s Hospital in Romford, urged people to only contact ambulance services in the case of real emergencies.
“Along with the rest of the NHS, we are under considerable pressure as we look after a rising number of Covid-19 patients, some of whom are being cared for safely in ambulances before entering Queen’s Hospital,” it said.
“You can help us by calling NHS 111 if you need medical advice, and only coming to our emergency departments in a real emergency.”
“We are treating very high numbers of patients with Covid-19 across our hospitals, and in line with our winter escalation plan we have moved into a ‘very high pressure’ phase and taking steps to keep our patients safe,” it added.
England’s hospitals now have more coronavirus patients than at any other point in the pandemic, according to NHS figures, with 21,787 on Tuesday compared to an April peak of 18,974. A further 51,135 cases of coronavirus and 414 deaths were reported.
Major incidents have already been declared at hospitals across London due to growing demand for services and local authorities in Essex followed suit this morning amid concerns over bed capacity, staff sickness and the ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments.
Two NHS Trusts in London have issued an urgent warning over oxygen supplies because of the demand from sick Covid patients.
The North Middlesex University Hospital Trust revealed it has around 200 patients consuming 2,400 litres of oxygen a minute, compared to a normal use of around 1,000 litres a minute, while Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Woolwich, was forced to divert emergency patients to other hospitals because its oxygen system had been overwhelmed by the demand.
A junior doctor, who works in London but wishes to remain anonymous, said his hospital was “aggressively overstretched” and that staff were suffering from exhaustion.
“There’s just been a huge expansion in the number of Covid in-patients, the number of patients we’re admitting and the baseline sickness of the patients,” he said.
“We are close to or have exceeded maximum capacity already in terms of 100 per cent ideal care… if it goes beyond that then things would be bad.
“We haven’t had people being treated in corridors yet, but that partly reflects a fairly rapid rate of death… that clears out bed space, unfortunately.”
Other medical staff showed frustration at the numbers of people who cast doubt on the pictures of queueing ambulances.
Jim Crawford, who shared an images of emergency vehicles waiting outside a hospital in the East of England, said: “Hospital empty, obviously. We just make the crews and patients wait for kicks. At least that’s what some total idiots on Twitter would have you believe.”
Areas that may be moved from tier 3 to tier 4 due to increasing case rates include parts of the East Midlands, West Midlands and Lancashire as well as Hartlepool in the north east. There are also concerns about parts of the south west of England and Cumbria.
However the Independent Sage panel of experts said a third national lockdown for England was “vitally necessary” because the new, more infectious variant of the virus had tipped the country into a “new, even more serious pandemic”.
They warned that deaths from the second wave will probably exceed those in the first wave in January. Committee member Christina Pagel said: “Action is needed now to avoid the collapse of the NHS in a few weeks.”
Additional reporting by Press Association