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Covid-19: Hospitals under pressure as coronavirus cases rise

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Publishedduration21 minutes agoHospitals in the south of England say they have seen a “real rise in pressure” as the number of Covid patients needing treatment increases.Paramedics in London are now receiving almost 8,000 call-outs a day, with Saturday described as one of London Ambulance Service’s busiest in history.The service and at least two others have…

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Hospitals in the south of England say they have seen a “real rise in pressure” as the number of Covid patients needing treatment increases.

Paramedics in London are now receiving almost 8,000 call-outs a day, with Saturday described as one of London Ambulance Service’s busiest in history.

The service and at least two others have urged people to call 999 only if there is a serious emergency.

On Sunday, some 30,501 infections and 316 deaths were recorded in the UK.

But the true scale will be higher, as Scotland is not releasing data around deaths between 24 and 28 December, while Northern Ireland is not providing either case or death data.

There were 21,286 people in hospital with coronavirus across the UK on December 22 – the last day for which data is available – according to official government figures.

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said her experience of working in a hospital on Christmas Day was one of “wall to wall Covid” and a “great deal of difficulty getting those patients through into the wards”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “The chances are that we will cope but we cope at a cost – the cost is not doing what we had hoped, which is being able to keep non-Covid activities going.”

Dr Henderson added: “It is always challenging in winter, nobody would say that it wasn’t, but at the moment the level of patient need is incredibly high.”

Prof Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, said the issues faced by hospitals in southern England were similar to those experienced in Scotland in October and November – but there was still pressure on services.

She said: “We are still seeing significant amounts of patients with Covid and large amounts of standard respiratory infections and other emergency that we see at this time of year that mount up to our standard winter pressures.”

The BBC has been told the London Ambulance Service (LAS) received as many emergency calls on 26 December as it did at the height of the first wave of Covid-19.

The 7,918 calls received by London Ambulance Service on Boxing Day was up more than 2,500 on the same day last year.

An LAS memo said the rising demand was down to the “rapid spread of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus”.

Figures seen by the BBC show at one London hospital on Sunday morning, ambulance crews were typically waiting nearly six hours to hand over patients to staff.

One paramedic told the BBC that some patients had been treated in ambulance bays because of a shortage of beds.

“It’s been a horrendous time,” the paramedic said. “Ambulance staff are finding the whole situation very stressful.”

image captionAs of 24 December, London, the South East, and the East of England had the greatest proportion of new variant cases

London Ambulance Service (LAS) said demand had been rising “sharply” in the past weeks, while similar pressures are also being reported in other parts of southern England.

The South Central Ambulance Service – which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire – asked people only to dial 999 in a “life-threatening or serious emergency”.

And the South East Coast Ambulance Service – covering Kent, Surrey and Sussex – has asked the public to consider other options before calling 999.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, “many more” people were coming into hospitals with Covid, as well as other conditions.

“The public should be under no illusions that this is one of the most challenging times for the NHS,” she said.

Mainland Scotland entered level four restrictions from Saturday for three weeks, and a similar stay-at-home order is also in place in Wales.

Northern Ireland has also entered a new six-week lockdown. The first-week measures are the toughest yet, with a form of curfew in operation from 20:00 GMT, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 06:00.

image captionThis chart, using data up to 23 December, shows how hospital admissions had been rising in London

Infection rates in England are currently highest in areas of Essex, London and other parts of the South East.

Parts of Essex have recorded the highest weekly coronavirus case rates since the pandemic began. In the week leading up to 21 December, Brentwood, Epping Forest and Thurrock all had rates of more than 1,350 cases per 100,000 people.

It comes as 24 million people – or 43% of England’s population – are now living under the harshest tier four rules after more than six million people in east and south-east England went into the highest level of restrictions on Saturday. The rules include a “stay-at-home” order.

Meanwhile, NHS England said coronavirus vaccinations had been paused on Christmas Day and over the weekend but would resume on Monday.

The vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech was the first to be given approval in the UK.

Prof Andrew Pollard, the chief investigator of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, said they were hoping regulators would soon give their approval for its use.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They’ve got thousands of pages of data to review and they need to be given the time and space to do that.”

Prof Pollard added: “There’s been an enormous amount of work going between the suppliers of vaccines – in our case AstraZeneca – and government – to make sure that all of that pipeline is managed hour by hour to make sure that the distribution can happen.”

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