Essex declares 'major incident' at Six hospitals as NHS trusts across the country see patients in ambulances lined up outside 'because there is no room on wards' and others warn they have 'run out of oxygen, staff and even pillows' amid COVID-19 surge


  • Essex declares emergency as patient numbers receiving Covid treatment higher than peak of first wave 
  • County's hospitals can move patients, bring in more workers and cancel operations and appointments
  • UK hospitals are running low on staff, beds, oxygen amid intensifying crisis caused by mutant Covid strain
  • Hospitals have made requests to move ICU patients from London to Yorkshire  because they are full
  • Ambulances seen queuing outside A&Es across England and Wales in the past 24 hours

The emergency pressure overwhelming UK has  found expression in the situation bedeviling Essex hospitals where almost everything is at shortage state, leaving medical personnel at a loss of what to do to combat the imminent crisis.

According to Daily Mail, Essex has today declared a 'major incident' as the number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm its hospitals and ambulances queued outside A&Es all over the country due to a lack of beds and staff, MailOnline can reveal today. 

UK hospitals are running low on workers, ward space, oxygen and even pillows with patients being treated by medics inside emergency vehicles as they waited up to six hours to be admitted. In some cases people were later diverted more than 100 miles away while some packed London ICUs have started asking major hospitals in Yorkshire if they will take some of their Covid patients.

On the day Britain's Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use, Essex declared a 'major incident' at its six hospitals, allowing then to move patients elsewhere, speed up discharging, call in extra staff as well as cancel non-emergency care and operations. The Department for Health and Social Care is also expected to set out later today what help the Government will give Essex. 

Doctors in areas worst affected by the surging number of coronavirus cases have said they are 'extremely fearful' and are just days away from having to make 'horrendous choices' over who they can treat and who is left to die. 

The chaos has been blamed on dwindling oxygen supplies and NHS chiefs say staff absence is twice its normal level because of illness and self-isolation with some hospitals begging nurses to return early from Christmas holidays and time off in January is now banned by some trusts. 

Footage on social media revealed that queues of ambulances were lined up outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and Queen's Hospital in Romford, both in east London, and in Kent last night when NHS Providers' deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery warned pressure on the NHS was 'rising at an unsustainable rate'. 

There were also reports of delays at hospitals in East Anglia, south Wales and Birmingham, where doctor Punith Kempegowda tweeted: 'Just getting out of a&e after another loooooooong day. Almost all these ambulances are waiting with patients inside them for more than 3 hours because there's no place in hospital to bring them in'.  

The mounting pressure on hospitals came as:

Critical Oxford/AstraZeneca jab sealed approval from the UK medical regulator this morning, with injections due to start on Monday;

The chief executive of AstraZeneca has promised the firm will be able to deliver 2million weekly doses of the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine;

Another 13million people in England expected to be plunged into Tier 4 today despite vaccine breakthrough;

Secondary schools are expected to shut until January 11 at the earliest - but scientists want them closed until February. Boris Johnson will make the final decision today;

There are also growing concerns about the number of people in their 40s and 50s with no underlying health problems being admitted to wards or even appearing on intensive care wards, one London doctor has said. 

Doctors have said they are frightened for the next few weeks as inpatient numbers exceeded the first wave peak and cases now bursting through the 50.000-per day mark. 

With beds, staff and equipment all running low, consultant anaesthetist Dr Claudia Paoloni warned the situation was just days away from reaching the point where care would be rationed.

Dr Paoloni, president of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, told The Guardian: 'Our NHS just doesn't have the beds to cope. Some areas will be overwhelmed in days. If ventilation capacity is exceeded, horrendous choices will have to be made over those who live and die.' 

She added that other life determining choices will also have to be made, including which patients to admit to intensive care and how long to continue treatments on patients who appear to be making no progress, if for example a patient with better chances of survival needs the haemodialysis machine they are using.

Leaked figures revealed that England's critical care capacity is now running at over 100 per cent at a number of hospitals across London, the south east, and east, the Health Service Journal reports.

Jenny Vaughan, vice-chairwoman of the Doctors' Association UK, said: 'DAUK has heard that due to some hospitals being short of intensive care unit beds, patients are having to be transferred out; distances in some cases are over 100 miles from hospitals in southeast London'.

Dr Vaughan said: 'One of our members in north London has reported that because of the surge in patients with Covid-19, oxygen supplies have had to be conserved. DAUK is concerned for both the safety of patients and the impact of the pressure that staff are under.

'Lessons have not been learnt, and the mistakes of the first wave are being repeated while frontline staff are treating sick patients in more and more extreme conditions.' 

This morning  Essex council and health chiefs warned of 'significant growing demand' on hospitals across the county and will enable local leaders to seek further support from the Government, the Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said.

Southend, Basildon and Chelmsford's Broomfield hospitals have warned that the number of Covid patients has 'increased markedly, putting severe pressure on emergency departments', cancelling non-urgent operations. Queen's Hospital is a hospital in Romford also forms part of the ERF. 

Leaked figures revealed that England's critical care capacity is now running at over 100 per cent at a number of hospitals across London, the south east, and east, the Health Service Journal reports.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Woolwich, south-east London, declared a major incident on Sunday over fears they could run out of oxygen because of the number of coronavirus patients on its wards.

Today it emerged that its sister hospital in Lewisham had run out of pillows on one of its covid wards, leading to locals offering to donate some via social media. 

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust tweeted: 'Thank you all for your concern, and very kind offers to buy us some but we are covered and have taken extra pillows to the ward in question'.  

The Essex Resilience Forum - which is made up of members of the NHS, emergency services and local authorities - said the number of patients in Essex receiving treatment for coronavirus had now increased to levels exceeding those seen at the peak of the first wave.

It added that such numbers were expected to increase further in the coming days and that cases were particularly high in Mid and South Essex, with Southend University Hospital begging staff to cancel leave and return to work to help cope with rising demand. 

Areas of concern included critical care and bed capacity, staff sickness and the ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments.

Anthony McKeever, executive lead for Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, said: 'We are taking every action possible within the NHS and across the wider health and social care partnerships in Essex to limit the impact on the NHS and the wider health system.

'This involves using critical care capacity elsewhere in Essex and the Eastern region and identifying additional locations and capacity to assist with the discharging of patients to reduce pressure on hospitals.

'Our strong working relationships mean we are able to respond effectively to support our local communities.

'I would also like to pay tribute to all those hard-working colleagues who are working tirelessly to support our communities across the system. They are all doing an amazing job in extremely difficult circumstances.'

Chief constable of Essex Police and co-chair of the Essex Local Resilience Forum, BJ Harrington, said: 'Declaring a major incident enables us to seek further support from the Government to address the severe pressures which the health system is under because of Covid-19.

'The people of Essex have been magnificent and are only dialling 999 or attending A&E in an emergency - we need this to continue because this will help protect the very limited capacity available at our hospitals.'

A junior doctor has said he was surprised by the number of young Covid-19 patients he has seen who do not have any pre-existing conditions.

Dr Yousef Eltuhamy, who works at a London hospital, appeared on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday to give his experience of working on the front line during the pandemic.

He told the programme: 'Every time I start my shift, I walk into my intensive care unit and I'm just greeted with a sight that takes me aback every time, of row on row of patients extremely unwell, all with the same awful virus, all severely critically unwell and looking to me and my colleagues to help them get better.

'That pressure is felt not just in intensive care, it's felt in A&E, it's felt on the wards, it's felt in primary care as well.

'Seeing things get worse, seeing cases go up, seeing admissions go up just makes me feel very, very anxious about the future.'

Asked later about the demographics of patients he was treating, he said: 'It's actually really surprising.

'I didn't expect to see so many young people, people in their 40s and their 50s, patients who don't have any prior medical history at all.'

Dr Eltuhamy said he himself became unwell with coronavirus in May despite being fit and low risk.

He added: 'I really don't take this lightly and I don't think anyone should take this virus lightly, young or old.'

The doctor said that while everyone is 'doing their absolute best' to maximise capacity, there are staff shortages.

'It is extremely difficult and everyone's stretched really really thin,' he added.

His comments were echoed by Dame Donna Kinnair, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.

Also speaking to BBC Breakfast, Dame Donna said that while she hoped the public's support of healthcare workers during the pandemic would help recruitment, retaining nurses was likely to be an issue.

She said: 'This has been designated as one of the toughest years in the history of the NHS, and therefore nurses have been working flat out, relentlessly, since March when this pandemic was declared and actually that will take its toll on people.' 

The situation in hospitals reaching breaking point with record Covid admissions continued to deteriorate yesterday, with ambulances queuing and many intensive care units operating well over their capacity.

It emerged certain London ICUs have asked major hospitals in Yorkshire, more than 150 miles to the north, if they will agree to take some patients.   

It is not known when patients will be transferred out of the capital, or if Yorkshire's hospitals will agree to take them. NHS critical care patients are rarely transferred such long distances.

A senior intensive care source confirmed to HSJ that a lack of capacity in the Tier 4 capital had seen a number of requests for patients to be transferred to hospitals in Tier 3 Yorkshire. 

Data from the internal NHS critical care capacity dashboard - leaked to HSJ - showed that London had far surpassed its maximum capacity with intensive care units 114 per cent full on Monday night. 

The south east was not far behind with ICUs at 113 per cent capacity. In the east of England the leaked capacity data shows units running at 100 per cent. 

In each region mentioned over 60 per cent of the patients filling ICUs were suffering from Covid-19.  

The surge past 100 per cent capacity will see ICUs struggle to cope by redeploying staff from other hospital services. 

Another image taken from the NHS critical care dashboard and leaked to HSJ revealed that the number of covid-19 patients in London's intensive care units has doubled in the last two weeks from 300 to 636.

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