Barts Health NHS Trust, which has five hospitals, has begun planning to reopen more intensive care beds and boost oxygen supplies if the rise in community infections causes a spike in seriously ill Covid patients this winter.
Chief medical officer Professor Alistair Chesser said a lower take-up of vaccines in its catchment area in east London was a particular problem. Barts has also seen an increase in the average age of Covid patients, with a third now being 65 or older.
Professor Chesser said: “We are only in November and we are already strained in our ability to cope with volumes and the sickness of the patients we are looking after.
“Most of our covid admissions are not fully vaccinated. It’s an ongoing challenge in this part of London to push and persuade people that vaccination is good for them.”
Our hospitals are very busy at the moment. Please dial 111 if you need help, advice or have a minor injury. Please only visit our A&E departments @RoyalLondonHosp @WhippsCrossHosp @NewhamHospital if it is an emergency.
— Barts Health (@NHSBartsHealth) November 2, 2021
Today it was reported that jabs for NHS staff were unlikely to be made compulsory until April next year, amid concerns that a pre-winter crackdown could worsen staff shortages.
Only 80 per cent of the trust’s 16,793 staff have had at least one jab - meaning more than 3,300 are not vaccinated or their status is unknown.
Barts, whose hospitals include the Royal London, St Bartholomew’s and Whipps Cross, has a 15 per cent vacancy rate and is struggling to retain newly-recruited nurses.
Chief executive Dame Alwen Williams told the trust board that there were “very significant ongoing pressures in our hospitals”.
Almost 44,000 patients attended its three A&Es in September - more than in the same month two years earlier. This is being driven by patients with minor injuries or illness who do not need to be admitted to a ward - people who may have been unable to see a GP.
Barts has more patients waiting for non-emergency operations than any other London trust. Almost 8,900 have waited a year and 591 more than two years.
Patients who fear they have cancer are having checks delayed because of a lack of capacity to carry out ultrasound and MRI scans.
Bosses fear an increase in covid admissions will have a drastic impact on efforts to tackle the backlog because staff may have to be redeployed into intensive care units.
The trust currently has about 130 covid patients, including 40 in intensive care. It reported 13 covid deaths last month but 932 covid patients recovered and were discharged.
Shane DeGaris, the trust’s deputy chief executive, said: “Our [backlog] plans rely on the covid and [A&E] demand being managed. Any major spikes will blow us off course, I’m afraid – and that is stretching all the capacity we have got, including using the independent sector.”