Health chief warns Covid surge could leave patients unable to get help from ...

Sick patients in need of an ambulance may not be able to get one at their time of need if pressures on the NHS continue to increase, a leading paramedic has today warned.  

Tracy Nicholls, the head of professional body the College of Paramedics, says ambulance services are under 'unprecedented pressure' with handover delays at a scale never seen before.

She said some ambulance crews have reported waiting up to ten hours to transfer a patient to hospital staff in areas where there is increased pressure on NHS services. 

And in a stark warning, she said there was a 'potential risk' that patients would not be able to access an ambulance if such pressures continue to increase.

The caution comes as England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty today said hospitals face 'the worst crisis in living memory' as Covid-19 cases continue to soar - with 46,000 medical workers now off sick.   

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And he warned that Britons who do not take the coronavirus lockdown seriously will cause 'avoidable deaths' when critically ill patients are turned away at the hospital door.

His scathing comments, made in an article in the Sunday Times, came as Briton recorded a further 1,035 Covid deaths on the deadliest Saturday since April 18 - bringing the total number since the start of the pandemic to 80,000.

But while the death figures continues to climb, hospitals face an ever-increasing struggle to deal with the added pressure of Covid patients.

And Ms Nicholls said the 'unprecedented' pressure was being filtered down to paramedics. Speaking to Sky News today, she said: 'It (the ambulance service) is under unprecedented pressure.

'We are very used to seeing ambulance services take some strain over the winter months due to the normal pressures we would see any particular year.

'But this year particularly has seen incredible pressure because of the clinical presentation of the patients our members are seeing. They are sicker.'

She told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that the delay for category three calls, where a patient may have fallen, has been 'up to 10 hours' in high-pressure areas.

Asked if there was a risk people might not be able to get an ambulance if the pressure on the NHS continues, Ms Nicholls said: 'I think it is a potential risk. 

In other coronavirus developments today: 

Rishi Sunak could delay tax rises until next autumn because he reportedly believes it is the 'wrong time' for them but will end Stamp Duty holiday in March; Police vow to issue fines 'much quicker' as scientists blame the public for not following the rules as closely as they did in the first lockdown; Coronavirus outbreaks in care homes more than doubled in a fortnight over the New Year period, after it emerged that only ten per cent of residents had been vaccinated; Some schools are still more than half full as attendance soars much higher than the first lockdown and parents are urged to keep children at home where possible; Doctors in packed London hospitals 'have to choose who gets intensive care and prioritise young people with highest survival chances'; Police who fined two women £200 for socially-distanced country walk are slammed by ex-chief constable who says 'if police don't act fairly, public won't comply'; Dozens of anti-lockdown protesters are confronted by police as they march on Clapham Common chanting 'take your freedom back'.

Tracey Nicholls (pictured), the head of professional body the College of Paramedics, says ambulance services are under 'unprecedented pressure' with handover delays at a scale never seen before

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Tracey Nicholls (pictured), the head of professional body the College of Paramedics, says ambulance services are under 'unprecedented pressure' with handover delays at a scale never seen before

Britons not taking the coronavirus lockdown seriously could soon cause 'avoidable deaths' when critically ill patients are turned away at the hospital door, Professor Chris Whitty warned in a scathing article for the Sunday Times. Pictured, ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital on January 8

Britons not taking the coronavirus lockdown seriously could soon cause 'avoidable deaths' when critically ill patients are turned away at the hospital door, Professor Chris Whitty warned in a scathing article for the Sunday Times. Pictured, ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital on January 8

Footage showed the inside of St George's Hospital as Covid cases soar in Britain. The country has two weeks before hospitals are likely to be completely overwhelmed, Prof Whitty added, as the nation is plunged into the 'most dangerous situation' in living history

Footage showed the inside of St George's Hospital as Covid cases soar in Britain. The country has two weeks before hospitals are likely to be completely overwhelmed, Prof Whitty added, as the nation is plunged into the 'most dangerous situation' in living history

A mother issued a harrowing plea while recovering from coronavirus in intensive care, after the virus 'floored' her on Christmas Day. Doctors told Allie Sherlock, had she not been put on a ventilator at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital (pictured), she would have died

A mother issued a harrowing plea while recovering from coronavirus in intensive care, after the virus 'floored' her on Christmas Day. Doctors told Allie Sherlock, had she not been put on a ventilator at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital (pictured), she would have died

Staff say they are exhausted and fearful as they are told that St George's Hospital will only get busier in the coming days

Staff say they are exhausted and fearful as they are told that St George's Hospital will only get busier in the coming days

Prof Whitty (pictured) blasted coronavirus rulebreakers for being the 'link in a chain' that will allow the deadly virus to infect a and kill the elderly and vulnerable

Prof Whitty (pictured) blasted coronavirus rulebreakers for being the 'link in a chain' that will allow the deadly virus to infect a and kill the elderly and vulnerable

'We are open for business, as is all the NHS. The ambulance services are doing an amazing job under difficult circumstances.'

She added: 'But I'm sure it's frightening for people to think that because of the pressures from Covid-19 they may somehow not get an ambulance in the same way.'   

The warning comes as it was revealed almost 50,000 hospital workers are currently off sick with Covid-19, according to the chair of the British Medical Association, Chaand Nagpaul, meaning an already stretched workforce is under even more pressure, The Guardian reports.

Mr Nagpaul said: 'It is only if the NHS workforce is kept fit and well that we will be able to meet the unprecedented surge in demand that the coming weeks and months will bring as well as delivering the vaccine programme that remains our only hope to end this dreadful pandemic.'

Meanwhile, Prof Whitty today blasted coronavirus rulebreakers for being the 'link in a chain' that will allow the deadly virus to infect a and kill the elderly and vulnerable. 

'We must stay home except for work, exercise and necessary activities. Every unneccesary interaction you have could be the link in the chain of transmission which has a vulnerable person at the end,' he wrote.

'It knocked me out. I didn't think I'd make it': Covid patients speak out from intensive care in footage that shows emotional medics inside packed London hospital 

One nurse at UCH, Ashleigh, revealed that they are being forced to prioritise their care which will inevitably lead to a lower standard of care

One nurse at UCH, Ashleigh, revealed that they are being forced to prioritise their care which will inevitably lead to a lower standard of care

Shocking footage from an intensive care unit has revealed the extent of the coronavirus crisis and the strain it is piling on the NHS. 

Emotional doctors and nurses were seen struggling at London's University College Hospital while caring for the growing amount of coronavirus patients. 

Operating theatres and some paediatric rooms have even been converted into intensive care units to deal with the ever-growing number of patients. 

The harrowing footage comes on the same day Britain breached 1,000 Covid-related deaths since the virus's peak in April. 

Department of Health figures revealed that a whopping 1,041 people have died as a result of coronavirus in the past 24 hours. 

Footage filmed by the BBC showed the alarming reality on hospital wards. 

One patient, Attila, 67, opened up about the trauma of suffering from the virus. 

He said: 'It knocked me out. I didn't think I would make it. There is no oxygen around. It's very frightening.'   

 

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The country has two weeks before hospitals are likely to be completely overwhelmed, Prof Whitty added, as the nation is plunged into the 'most dangerous situation' in living history.

But it's not just Britons with coronavirus who are at risk, as patients in need of treatment for other illnesses face 'unsafe' waiting times. 

NHS hospitals are treating half the usual number of cancer patients, according to The Sunday Telegraph, as London needs to treat 500 more cancer patients a week to stay on top of demand - but only 122 were treated in the capitals NHS hospitals this week. 

It could take the NHS six years of 1990-level waiting lists - meaning patients will be forced to wait years for operations - and more than £900million to get back to where healthcare was pre-Covid, according to Rob Findlay, an expert who produced software for nearly 20 NHS trusts.

He told People the 168,000 patients who have waited a year for treatment will more than double by March after lockdown caused operations to be delayed.

Professor Neil Ferguson said the number of patients with coronavirus in hospitals will sour by 20 per cent. 'It will be quite difficult to avoid another 20,000 deaths,' he added.

Meanwhile, a further 1,035 people have died today in the deadliest Saturday since April 18, as the total Covid death toll since the pandemic began hit a grim 80,000.

The total marked a 132.5 per cent rise on the 445 deaths recorded on Saturday last week and was the highest Saturday figure since April 18.

But in a positive sign the upward curve in cases may be levelling out a further 59,937 people tested positive, up just 3.8 per cent on last Saturday.

Most hospitals are struggling to cover the levels of staffing needed to properly treat desperately ill patients. In Kent, the origin of the UK Covid strain that quickly overwhelmed London and the south east, 25 per cent of clinical and administrative staff are reportedly off sick - making it more difficult to administer vaccinations.

Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: 'There are enough right now to deliver the limited supplies that we've got. But we certainly haven't got enough staff to deliver a much larger programme in two or three weeks' time, while at the same time as continuing to deliver the flu vaccination programme and delivering normal business in general practice as well.' 

It comes after the scene in the packed intensive care ward of St George's Hospital in Tooting, south-west London was recorded in a series of photographs. Its doctors and nurses revealed the unit has now doubled in size. 

Shattered staff at London's largest hospital say they are working 'to the limit' of their ability, battling low morale, exhausting shift patterns, and the prospect that the worst is still to come. 

Medical Director at NHS London, Vin Diwakar, warned medics that even if coronavirus patients grew at the lowest likely rate and hospital capacity is increased - including opening the Nightingale  at the ExCel Centre - the NHS would still be short 2,000 general, acute and ICU beds by January 19, the HSJ reports.

Inside St George's they are seeing seriously ill patients in their twenties because of the new Covid strain - and bosses fear that there will be an exodus of staff when the third lockdown ends at Easter. 

Staff at London's University College Hospital told the BBC they are having to make choices about which patients to prioritise after a surge in young people left fighting for their life and needing ventilators.

St George's emergency department consultant Dr Mark Haden said: 'Everyone's stress levels are higher than usual. Everyone is working to the limit, to the threshold of what they're able to. The hospital bed occupancy is very, very high, it has lots of Covid patients as inpatients at the moment.' 

The Press Association was given access to the ICU where Ms Cooper said: 'There is very little joy in our work at the moment. It's hard to find that joy when you come into work - you're scared for your colleagues, your families and yourself.'

She said some staff have had to be sent home to take time off due to the unprecedented pressures on the job, while others have battled on despite not being able to see family abroad for nearly a year.

A consultant takes a moment to use his phone in the corridor of the Intensive Care Unit at St George's Hospital in Tooting

A consultant takes a moment to use his phone in the corridor of the Intensive Care Unit at St George's Hospital in Tooting

A patient is prepared for transfer from the Acute Dependency Unit to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at St George's Hospital, Tooting, as their condition worsens

A patient is prepared for transfer from the Acute Dependency Unit to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at St George's Hospital, Tooting, as their condition worsens

A staff nurse treats patient Peter Watts, 64, in the Emergency Department at St George's Hospital in Tooting, London's largest hospital

A staff nurse treats patient Peter Watts, 64, in the Emergency Department at St George's Hospital in Tooting, London's largest hospital

Inside St George's they are seeing seriously ill patients in their twenties because of the new Covid strain sweeping the country

Inside St George's they are seeing seriously ill patients in their twenties because of the new Covid strain sweeping the country

St George's has been forced to double the size of its intensive care unit from 60 beds to 120 beds to cope with the number of Covid cases

St George's has been forced to double the size of its intensive care unit from 60 beds to 120 beds to cope with the number of Covid cases

And Mrs Cooper said she was concerned about the coronavirus legacy on staff in the emergency department.

'There's only so much you can come in and see an unprecedented number of healthy people die before that affects you,' she said.

'There is going to be an impact on mental health for a long time for our staff.

'We're quite resilient and adaptable, that's part of being in the emergency department, that's what we love. But this is going to have a sustained impact on staff and that's what worries me because I can't see how we're going to help that, because it is an impact that can't be seen in someone but it is very much felt.

Intensive care consultant Mohamed Ahmed said he had seen staff in tears at the end of their shift, while some decided they could no longer come to work.

Intensive care consultant Mohamed Ahmed said he had seen staff in tears at the end of their shift, while some decided they could no longer come to work

Intensive care consultant Mohamed Ahmed said he had seen staff in tears at the end of their shift, while some decided they could no longer come to work

Staff nurses work in the corridor of the Acute Dependency Unit at St George's Hospital in Tooting

Staff nurses work in the corridor of the Acute Dependency Unit at St George's Hospital in Tooting

Dr Ahmed, 40, said: 'After the first wave, we had quite a lot of staff who resigned. They couldn't cope. We had nurses who had all their family members abroad and of course they couldn't see them, so they couldn't get that support. It was extremely difficult.

'We have had a lot of sickness, so we've had situations where very good nurses are having to work on behalf of all of those who are unable to come in - it's one of these situations you never want to put your staff in.'

Asked how much more staff could tolerate, Dr Ahmed said: 'The wiggle room, as you say, has been stretched so much. However, predominantly we're programmed in such a way as to deal with anything. But it would stretch us beyond our limit.'

His intensive care colleague, matron Lindsey Izard, described how staff were 'really on the edge, they're exhausted and they're getting Covid themselves'.

And Omome Etomi, a medical registrar on the hospital's Acute Medicine Unit, said she was 'shattered'.

Dr Etomi, 28, said: 'I think psychologically more than anything, it's been months and months of this. Even in between waves, we never really went back to normal. For us it's been a really long few months. It's challenging.'

Emergency department consultant Mark Haden paid tribute to the staff for stepping up to the challenge.

Dr

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