Liverpool is struggling to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases, with 95 per cent of intensive care beds in the city’s main hospitals full, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
About half of the intensive care beds across the city’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LUFT) have been taken by patients being treated for Covid-19.
The surge in Liverpool, the area of England with the highest number of infections, is straining health services to the limit and forcing delays in some non-urgent treatment as critical care units approach capacity.
The three hospitals that make up the trust have been divided into coronavirus and non-coronavirus wards. There are currently only two beds available out of 60 across the sites for patients not suffering from Covid-19 but in need of ventilation, according to one senior doctor. “We’ve got plenty of ventilators but we don’t have the beds,” the doctor added. “There’s a feeling of dread at the moment.”
In a letter seen by the Financial Times, GPs in Liverpool have been warned that the city’s two biggest hospitals are “full” and encouraged to consider “stepped up care at home” for some patients, to avoid hospital admissions.
In the letter, Fiona Lemmens, who chairs Liverpool clinical commissioning group, described the situation at Aintree University Hospital and The Royal Liverpool University Hospital, as “very concerning”. “Both hospitals are now full and the system is putting in place significant mutual aid to help continue urgent elective and cancer work so you may hear of your patients being transferred to other hospitals for their surgery”.
All the indicators “are that the situation is going to get worse over the next 2-3 weeks as our current high community transmission rates convert into hospital admissions,” Dr Lemmens added.
The age of affected patients was much higher in Liverpool than elsewhere in the North West “so we can expect to see growing demand for hospital and [intensive treatment unit] beds”, she warned.
Paul Brant, political lead for public health at Liverpool City Council, said: public health officials expected to see the rate of infection peak in the city in the next seven or eight days.
Steve Warburton, LUFT chief executive, said hospital admissions had increased as Covid-19 infection rates rose in the North West “which is why we need no further delays in enhanced local action to stem what will otherwise be a large increase in hospitalisations across Merseyside”.
He added: “In line with our surge plans, we are continuing cancer and emergency surgery, working in partnership with other specialist hospitals across Merseyside, while rescheduling non-urgent admissions as needed.”
One doctor at the trust said: “Any treatment that’s not urgent will be put on hold.”
Rob Barnett, secretary of Liverpool’s local medical committee, which represents GPs, said hospitals were “trying to do the impossible”: maintain normal services, including for those with serious conditions such as cancer, while tending to Covid-19 patients.
Dr Barnett added: “There comes a point when you can’t do both, especially when you have a finite number of staff.”
His patients were drawn in part from a section of the city which currently had an effective rate of 1,031 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, he said, while citywide the rate was now about 661 per 100,000. At the start of September the rate had been around 94 cases per 100,000.
There are currently 277 Covid-19 patients at the Trust, with a further 96 awaiting results. It dealt with roughly 400 cases during the peak of the pandemic earlier this year. Seventeen out of 64 care homes in the city are also managing recent outbreaks of the virus, according to council figures seen by the FT.
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News of the pressure on Liverpool’s hospitals comes after the government announced that three field-style Nightingale hospitals — speedily established as the first wave of the virus took hold in March — in the north have been told to prepare to accept Covid-19 patients. The North West has around 40 per cent of England’s Covid-19 cases.
Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said she was concerned that the public was not taking the situation sufficiently seriously. “We’re desperately trying to maintain as much normal activity as possible . . . if we do listen to local guidance and prevent patients with Covid being admitted to critical care, others will be able to continue getting their cancer surgery,” she added.
Additional reporting by Andrew Bounds in Huddersfield