A London hospital trust has become the first to admit it is turning away coronavirus patients, as NHS chiefs warned services in the capital are on the brink of being overwhelmed.
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said it has transferred Covid-19 patients to neighbouring hospitals, as demand for lifesaving treatment surges.
A senior clinician at the trust revealed that at one stage on Tuesday only one patient had been admitted to intensive care out of an eligible group of five, although the trust insists all who have required ventilation have so far received it.
It came as the death toll from the disease rose most sharply in London, with 16 of the total 29 new fatalities in England coming from the capital.
There were three deaths at Lewisham and Greenwich, more than nearby larger trusts.
In the UK, 144 patients are now known to have died from the disease.
On Thursday night senior medical leaders warned that smaller hospitals would find it hard to cope and were already transferring patients to larger teaching counterparts.
Dr Simon Walsh, the British Medical Association for emergency care, said: “Most hospitals have already managed to double their critical care capacity but the worrying thing I am hearing is that some units around London are already filled to capacity and some are exceeding capacity.”
Becoming the latest senior medic to bemoan the lack of staff testing for Covid-19, he said that whilst the bigger departments might be able to absorb staff absences, specialist units and smaller hospitals are likely to suffer and he was aware of paediatric emergency departments were between 25 and 30 per cent the doctors were already self-isolating.
Meanwhile a government source said: “In London, the situation is already looking like one of the worst winters we could remember – elderly people needing ventilators and just not enough of them to go round.
“We were already under pressure, the situation is deteriorating pretty fast.”
Thursday’s fresh coronavirus fatalities put the death rate in the UK higher than that of Italy.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a clinical staff member centrally involved in the coronavirus response at Lewisham and Greenwich said the trust’s A&E departments now resemble “Covid-19 waiting rooms”.
“We’re running out of beds and running out of space,” he said. “Some patients with Covid-19 are being shipped to other trusts.
“Managers are off sick with stress.”
At the daily Downing Street press conference, Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, acknowledged the deteriorating situation in London.
He said the danger posed by the disease to patients’ respiratory systems means intensive care units would be the first to experience “real pressure”, adding that there will be a “lag” before the public’s efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19 will result in a slowing of case numbers.
One London hospital trust has less than seven days’ worth of protective equipment left and has even had a store room broken into and with masks and other protection stolen, sources told the Telegraph .
A spokesman for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said claims that Covid-19 patients had not been properly ventilated were “categorically not true”.
“We have provided intensive care treatment to all Covid-19 patients who have needed it,” he said.
He also said all A&E services had not been disrupted.