NHS medics have warned routine surgery could grind to a ‘standstill’ again if Covid ICU admissions approach levels of previous waves.
Currently there are more than 500 Covid patients in intensive care, double the number last month. But this is still an eighth of the 4,000 in January.
There are more than 615 general admissions each day, of which a small number become seriously ill. Admissions have tripled in just over a month.
Intensive care doctor Charlotte Summers, an honorary consultant at Cambridge University, said if ICU capacity numbers get into the thousands then routine care could be put on the backburner once again.
There are a record 5.3million people on the waiting list for routine surgery due to the pandemic, and officials have warned this could rise to 13m by the end of the year.
Dr Summers said that every Covid patient admitted to ICU stays for about two weeks. This disrupts care for other patients — such as those needing hip replacements and heart surgery — who also need the beds for their operation.
SAGE modelling warns daily hospitalisations could spiral to 2,000 in August or September, on the back of extremely high transmission following Freedom Day, which has raised concerns that ICUs could be stretched again.
In a glimmer of hope, however, official figures suggest that the rate of growth in hospital admissions is already slowing.
There are early signs that Covid hospitalisations may be slowing. NHS England data shows the rate of growth was at 50 per cent week-on-week in early January. But it has now dropped to below 40 per cent
Dr Charlotte Summers warned surging hospitalisations with the virus would once again disrupt care for most patients. It comes as Boris Johnson throws off most remaining restrictions in England today
Dr Summers told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Patients with Covid who come to intensive care and receive mechanical ventilation on average stay about 20 days if they survive and 14 days if they don’t.
‘This is much longer than patients who have undergone elective surgery (operations planned in advance).
Covid cases rise just 16 per cent in a week
Britain’s daily Covid cases rose by just 16 per cent today, as an expert hailed the small rise as a ‘remarkably good’ sign that the outbreak may already be starting to slow.
The Department of Health’s usual update showed there were 39,950 infections across the UK in the past 24 hours, up on the 34,471 recorded last Monday.
There were also another with another 19 Covid deaths registered today, which was more than triple the six victims reported a week ago but still 16 times lower than at the same point in previous waves.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that gloomy warnings of 200,000-plus daily cases and tens of thousands more deaths at the peak this autumn seemed ‘a bit over the top’. He suggested infections could actually start to drop on Thursday, if England’s Covid crisis plays out in the same way Scotland’s did following the surge of cases during Euro 2020.
Nationally, there are currently 45,000 new infections every day across Britain, on average, and the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) expects this to reach at least 100,000 in August or September.
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson — whose frightening modelling of the first wave spooked ministers into the initial shutdown — has warned that daily cases could rise to 200,000 this autumn, which would dwarf the 68,000 at the height of the second wave in January.
‘So, every patient we admit who comes to us due to Covid impacts on the delivery of elective surgery on far more than one patient.’
She said at the peak of the second wave in January they had just over 6,000 Covid patients in intensive car, sparking major disruption.
‘If that happens again elective surgery… will once again come to a standstill, and that’s unacceptable.’
Patients receiving routine surgery are admitted to intensive care for monitoring, to ensure they are not suffering ill effects from their operation.
The NHS says most are only in there for a few days, but some may end up staying for months.
Dr Summers added that hospitalisations were still rising because the vaccine had only weakened the link between cases and admissions rather than completely broken it.
She said leaving cases to surge to more than 100,000 a day – a number routinely touted by Government – would put hospitals under strain because ‘a small proportion of a very large number is still a very large number’.
Scientists have always said the jabs are not perfect, although they do drastically reduce the risk of serious disease, hospitalisation and death – even from the Indian variant.
Hospitalisations have risen over recent days to more than 600 per day. But there are now early signs they may be falling.
They were rising 50 per cent week-on-week in June. But on the latest date, July 17, they ticked up by just 36 per cent after 622 were recorded.
Covid cases also rose by just 16 per cent today compared to last week, in another sign the third wave may be slowing down.
The glimmer of hope comes as Boris Johnson throws off most remaining restrictions in England today making face masks optional and allowing night clubs to reopen.
But the Prime Minister and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak remain in self-isolation amid the unlocking after a top minister tested positive for the virus.
They were forced into an embarrassing U-turn yesterday after it emerged they planned to dodge stay-at-home requirements using a daily testing scheme.