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Three intensive care units in London ‘full’ on New Year’s Eve, leaked email shows

Written by on 1 January 2021

Intensive care units in three London hospitals were “full” on New Year’s Eve, leaving patients waiting to be transferred to other hospitals for critical care, according to a leaked NHS email obtained by Sky News.

The email, which was sent on Thursday afternoon to staff at University College London Hospital, recorded the status of intensive care units (ICUs) in the northwest and central areas of London, which have been hit hard by the steep rise in coronavirus infections.

ICUs at three hospitals were “full”, the email said. North Middlesex University Hospital, Barnet Hospital and Whittington Hospital had no more room for seriously ill patients and had patients waiting for “a transfer” to another ICU.

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Six patients at North Middlesex University Hospital were receiving oxygen in A&E

At North Middlesex University Hospital in Enfield, the situation was so serious that the respiratory medicine ward was also “full”, the email said, adding that there were six patients receiving oxygen in the hospital’s A&E.

Another London hospital, the Royal Free in Belsize Park, was said to have 58 intensive care patients, despite normally having 34 ICU beds.

The update said the Royal Free “cannot take another transfer”.

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An NHS spokesperson confirmed that the email had been sent, but said that the situation was changing so rapidly the information would almost certainly not be up to date.

Despite the intensity of the crisis, the spokesperson stressed that the hospitals were still open for anyone needing care or anyone with a scheduled appointment.

The email, which recorded figures compiled on Thursday by University College London Hospital (UCLH) medical director Professor Geoff Bellingan, also detailed the measures being taken to deal with the sudden influx of patients.

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Patients who could not be treated at hospitals in the region were being sent to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and children’s hospital Great Ormond Street had been “told to release 12 nurses” to the Royal Free and UCLH to allow patients to be transferred there.

UCLH has been taking large numbers of patients from other hospitals as part of the NHS’s “mutual aid” arrangement.

Yet, according to another internal email seen by Sky News, UCLH has already filled its main ICU.

A second, 20-bed ICU opened specially to deal with COVID-19 patients was now 75% full, the email said. Although UCLH was building “a third major ICU” with room for 25 patients, the email said it was “squeezing” the nearby National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery to take COVID-19 ICU cases.

The email, which was first reported in the Independent, made what it described as an “URGENT ask” for teams to “look at what they did in the first surge and release ALL the staff they did then,” adding that “we will need to go ABOVE this in a number of areas”.

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The news comes after an internal email from Royal London Hospital, first reported by The Times, said that the hospital was in “disaster medicine mode” and was no longer able to provide high-standard critical care.

Just under half of all major hospital trusts in England currently have more COVID-19 patients than during the peak of the first wave of the virus, according to the latest figures.

Out of 140 acute NHS trusts, 64 were recording a higher number of patients suffering symptoms as a result of coronavirus at 8am on December 30 than at any point between mid-March and the end of May.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said Nightingale Hospitals are being “readied” to deal with the surge in hospital admissions, although it is not clear when they will be able to take patients.

A spokesman for the NHS in London told Sky News: “Hospitals in London are coming under significant pressure from high COVID-19 infection rates and while staff are going the extra mile and the NHS in London is opening more beds in hospitals across the capital to care for the most unwell patients, it is crucial that the public do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus.”