Boris Johnson has said there is a “massive effort” to ensure the NHS has enough ventilators and intensive care beds, as one Italian expert warned the UK must prepare for a “tsunami” of patients needing specialist care.
The Prime Minister urged the public to continue following public health advice in order to reduce the pressure on the NHS, and ensure it can cope with the crisis.
Asked if medics would be forced to decide who gets treatment as beds fill up, he said: “Doctors in the NHS already make very difficult judgments, but our objective and the objective of this whole campaign is to ensure that we flatten the curve.
“But also that we lift up the line of NHS resilience and capability, that means there’s a massive effort going on right now to ensure that we do have enough ventilators, that we have enough ICUs ( intensive care units) to cope.”
It comes after Davide Manca, professor of process systems engineering at Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy, said hospitals in Britain should increase the capacity of their intensive care units.
He was speaking as a major London hospital declared a “critical incident” due to a surge in patients with Covid-19.
In a message to staff, Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow said that it currently does not have enough space for patients requiring critical care.
Prof Manca told the PA news agency: “Hospitals have to prepare for the tsunami wave by increasing the number of ICU beds before a large number of people arrive.”
He added: “Making some unpopular decisions – such as enforcing people to stay at home or closing schools, universities, and other aggregation points, closing companies and commercial activities together with shops that are not vital – would be a wise choice.”
His research, prepared for the European Society of Anaesthesiology, suggests that patients who survive in Italy are spending an average of 15 days in intensive care, and at least 10 days in each case.
Italian figures show that the number of people needing intensive care rises quickly as the epidemic spreads.
But Prof Manca estimated that the number of patients with coronavirus in intensive care in Italy may have peaked in Lombardy, but may still be peaking in Italy as a whole.
“If other countries want to have enough ICU beds to treat all the Covid-19 patients that are going to be arriving in their hospitals, they have to decrease the peak of the tsunami of cases that are coming,” he said.
“The most effective way to do this is to follow and enforce Italy’s very strict quarantine and social distancing measures, and make sure they are implemented.”