Coronavirus: London hospitals facing ‘tsunami’ of patients | World news

London hospitals are facing a “continuous tsunami” of coronavirus patients and some are likely to be overwhelmed in a few days, according to Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents hospital bosses.

Hopson said hospitals had expanded critical care capacity between five and sevenfold in the last weeks, but chief executives have been alarmed by the speed at which beds are filling up in the capital.

He said the problems had been exacerbated by medical staff off sick with suspected coronavirus or in vulnerable groups, with 30% to 50% not at work in some trusts.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “They are struggling with the explosion of demand in seriously ill patients. They are saying it’s the number arriving and the speed with which they are arriving and how ill they are. They talk about wave after wave after wave. The words that are used to me are that it’s a continuous tsunami. As one said to me, it’s much bigger and large numbers with a greater degree of stretch than you can ever have possibly imagined.

“The CEOs are concerned that all that extra capacity is now being used up very, very quickly. We’ve got the surge capacity at the ExCel centre but this is filling up very quickly.”

He said this was forming a “wicked combination” with the problem of up to 50% staff sickness rates in some trusts, which is “an unprecedented absence rate”.

Earlier, he tweeted that the surge in demand for coronavirus treatment was “off the scale” in London already and it was “evident that a number of hospitals are on a trajectory where their critical care capacity will become full within a few days”.

He added: “London CEOs saying they urgently want a lot more of everything – staff, ventilators, critical care capacity, PPE, testing capacity – but they recognise that their job is to do absolutely the best with what they have got and that’s what they are focused on.”

On Tuesday, a study by doctors warned that hospitals in England will run short of critical care beds for Covid-19 patients within the next two weeks if the numbers becoming severely ill reach those experienced in Italy.


A paper by a team at the University of Cambridge said that five of the seven NHS commissioning regions will have more patients needing critical care than the number of beds normally available in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) within a fortnight.

But Prof Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, who is advising the government, struck a more optimistic note on Thursday as he predicted the NHS will manage to get through the crisis without being totally overwhelmed.

“We are going to have a very difficult few weeks by we think overall with the capacity being rapidly put in place that whilst the health system will be stressed it won’t break,” he told the same programme.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said Labour was concerned that doctors and nurses were short of protective equipment, with some sourcing goggles and masks from DIY stores.

In a round of broadcast interviews, Edward Argar, the health minister, defended the government’s ability to protect NHS staff, insisting that “masses of supplies” were being distributed by the army around the clock.

He also said testing for NHS staff was coming on stream in the weeks to come, following criticism that the government has been slow to ramp it up from around 6,000 a day up to a target of 25,000.

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