2,000 lives saved and 621 deaths... how biggest NHS trust Barts Health battled the coronavirus pandemic

Ross Lydall
Barts Health runs five hospitals in east London including St Bartholomews Hospital: Getty Images

Extraordinary details of the impact of coronavirus on London’s biggest NHS hospital trust were revealed today.

Barts Health said 621 patients with Covid-19, including four of its staff, had died but almost 2,000 lives had been saved.

At the peak of the pandemic on April 8, the trust was treating 616 Covid-positive patients across four hospitals — the Royal London, St Bartholomew’s, Whipps Cross and Newham — of whom 135 required critical care.

Thirty patients died that day.

Forty per cent of all inpatient beds were taken by Covid patients. Its critical care units were operating at 110 per cent capacity.

Plans were agreed to rapidly open 176 new critical care beds on two floors of the Royal London that had not been occupied since the new hospital opened in 2012.

A week earlier, staff absences peaked at 2,287 off work, mostly self-isolating because they, or their households, had symptoms.

The number of staff who fell sick with the virus increased to 3,436 by the end of April. A total of 500 were still shielding this week.

The trust first realised the pandemic had reached east London when an elderly man with breathing difficulties tested positive after being admitted to the Royal London, in Whitechapel, at the start of March.

A report to the Barts Health board reveals: “Within hours, about 30 staff in contact with him were identified and sent home to self-isolate.

"Another case was confirmed, and the numbers across the trust started doubling every few days. Within a week a staff member at Whipps Cross tested positive, and on March 12 a patient at St Bartholomew’s with underlying health conditions sadly died.”

The staff to die with Covid were Miharajiya Mohideen, a healthcare assistant at Newham hospital; Van Lang Hoang, a patient transport driver; Mark Woolcock, an ambulance care assistant; and Dr Habibhai Babu, a medic at Whipps Cross.

More than 550 staff have sought psychological help for the mental strain they have suffered. The trust, which also includes Mile End hospital, serves east London communities that have been among the most affected in the UK by coronavirus.

As of yesterday morning, the number of Covid-positive patients across the trust had fallen to 89, with nine in intensive care. Hospital bosses are now attempting to restart as many non-Covid services as possible while preparing for a second wave.

The report, by trust director of communications Jon Hibbs, said: “In the face of the greatest public health challenge the NHS has faced in its history, our staff have worked selflessly and tirelessly to treat and care for our patients. Almost 2,000 people have recovered from serious respiratory illness as a result of their efforts.

“The number of new patients arriving in our hospitals for Covid-19 treatment has slowed to a trickle and the number of affected inpatients we are caring for has dropped below 100 for the first time in 10 weeks.”

Trust chiefs had the added responsibility of running the Nightingale field hospital, at the ExCeL conference centre. It opened on April 3, cost £5 million and treated 51 patients, of whom 18 died. It is now on standby and “ready to be reactivated within 10 days”.

Between March 12 and May 14, there were 575 confirmed Covid-19 deaths across the trust. Whipps Cross had most, at 229. Three-quarters of the patients survived and no patient under 30 died.

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