NHS trusts in England declare critical incident as hospital admissions near January high

NHS leaders in several parts of England have temporarily scaled back services, except for patients whose lives are at risk, as the number of hospitalized patients with coronavirus nears that of the first omicron peak.

The South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), which operates in six counties around London, announced early Wednesday that it had reported a critical incident “due to the extreme pressure on our services”.

The latest evidence of strains on health services has overshadowed attempts by ministers to overshadow the impact of a new health and welfare levy that came into force on Wednesday and is set to pump billions of pounds into the NHS over the next three years.

“If your situation is not a life-threatening or serious emergency, we will discuss your needs and provide you with advice. If your call does not call for an emergency rescue, you may be asked to get yourself to the hospital,” the emergency services said.

Mark Ainsworth, SCAS chief of operations, said declaring a critical incident means it can focus its resources on patients most in need “and communicates to our patients and healthcare system partners who can provide support the pressures we are under”.

The West Yorkshire Association of Acute Trusts, which represents six hospital trusts in northern England, urged patients in a statement late Tuesday to only go to accident and emergency departments when faced with “genuine, life-threatening situations” and warned of waiting times of more than 12 hours . The Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth also declared a critical incident on Wednesday.

Visiting a hospital in Hertfordshire on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Everyone across the country knows someone who is awaiting cancer treatment or a procedure that is vital to their health. We need to give our doctors and our nurses the funding to deal with it.”

However, warnings from frontline health workers show how the recent spike, driven by the Omicron BA.2 subvariant, has increased pressure on healthcare as the government moved forward End Free Bulk Trials and removing the remaining coronavirus restrictions.

As of April 16, 16,587 hospital beds across England were occupied by Covid patients after rising 6 per cent over the past week. The number is close to the peak of about 17,100 Covid patients reached in January, caused by the surge in the original Omicron variant.

However, nearly three-fifths of patients are being treated primarily for another medical problem.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said trusts across England were still facing “huge strain”.

“A very high number of hospital beds are occupied and this combined with staff absenteeism and severe staff shortages means foundations are not catching up on supply backlogs as quickly as they would like,” she said.

Emergency services were doing everything they could to cope under these “extremely difficult circumstances,” Cordery said, but adding that “extra pressure” was causing growing delays in emergency rooms.

dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said health leaders were “calling on the government to have a realistic conversation with the public about the current health situation”.

With one in thirteen people now positive for Covid, and cases among the elderly still rising, “there will be a direct knock-on effect on the NHS’ ability to manage waiting lists,” she added.

The Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England have been asked for comment. NHS trusts in England declare critical incident as hospital admissions near January high

Adam Bradshaw

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