Health workers say the NHS is “on the cusp of being overwhelmed” as hospitals struggle to cope with the surge in coronavirus cases.
Their warning came as hospitals across Britain are full to the brim with Covid-19 patients fighting for breath.
Doctors have even been forced to turn away ambulances because they are desperately short of oxygen.
In Birmingham, Essex, London and Oxford, even the most seriously ill are being treated in ambulances parked outside log-jammed emergency departments.
And children’s wards are being closed and converted into adult wards at several hospitals in London.
Jerry, a frontline ambulance worker in London, says, “there’s a massive surge” that’s “unlike anything” during the height of the first wave in spring.
“At Newham hospital, ambulance crews were waiting for nearly two hours just to get the patient off the trolley bed and into the cubicle,” he told Socialist Worker.
“That’s two hours that an ambulance is not on the road.”
He described how last weekend “for the first time in my 17 years we were waiting at the Homerton hospital”.
“Normally it’s five to ten minutes to unload a patient,” he said. “But it was 30 to 40 minutes. We can’t discharge our patients.”
Even if drastic measures are taken immediately, it is likely that parts of the health service will collapse.
And many, many people will die unnecessarily.
Emily, an occupational therapist in east London, described being “bombarded” on a shift just after Christmas.
“It was awful,” she told Socialist Worker. “I was just there thinking, ‘Oh no not again.’
“There were just no beds, there was so much work all over the place.”
One of her jobs is to discharge patients from the hospital with proper care, but workers are being forced to rush through the process.
“You were thinking, can we get this person home, then this person then that person just to get space,” she said. “We’re not used to that.”
Emily says on “ward after ward, people are lying on beds on oxygen—it’s horrific”.
She described one incident with “two nurses weighing up” who could go to intensive care “because there was only one bed left”.
Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have tried to blame the current crisis on the new, more infectious mutation of coronavirus.
The NHS went into the crisis short of 122,000 full time, permanent staff—including 41,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors.
The Tories, their profiteering buddies, and their management consultant mates stripped out any “spare capacity” from the health service in the name of efficiency.
Now ordinary people are paying the price.
Worst to come, say frontline staff
Health workers are furious that the Tory government didn’t prepare for a second wave of coronavirus during the summer.
“There can be no excuses for this,” one London paramedic told Socialist Worker.
“The first wave of Covid-19 told us what was coming but the government didn’t prepare. They should have used the summer, when infection levels were lower, to prepare in every possible way for the coming wave.
“Everyone could see it coming. Everyone except Boris Johnson.”
Some hospitals had adapted for coronavirus with, for instance, separate areas for Covid-19 cases. Ambulance worker Jerry explained, “Whittington hospital got rid of the old cubicles with curtains and had enclosed door cubicles. The Royal London produced new forms of triage.”
But Jerry said the sheer numbers of calls—for Covid-19 and other cases—means hospitals are still being overwhelmed.
The surge in coronavirus cases is combining with the NHS’s annual winter crisis.
“We did loads of things in our hospital to prepare for it,” said occupational therapist Emily, “but it doesn’t look like the government did at all.
“They should have spent the summer months thinking about how they’d cope”.
Jerry said, “The Tories have run down the NHS for so long there’s no spare resources. During the winter months we always run at around 98 percent capacity—with Covid-19 we’re running at more than 100 percent.”
He said health workers are “quite fatalistic” about the surge in cases because “we saw it coming three weeks ago. We feel that they’re treating us like we’re expendable,” he said. “There is an end to it, but the worst is still to come.”
The blame for that lies squarely with the Tory government.
Patients suffer as health service struggles to cope
The Royal London Hospital is operating in “disaster medicine mode” and unable to provide “high standard critical care”.
So says a leaked email from bosses at the east London hospital, leaked to the press on 31 December. It stated, “We are now in disaster medicine mode. We are no longer providing high standard critical care, because we cannot.
“While this is far from ideal, it’s the way things are, and the way they have to be for now.
“Every hospital in north east London is struggling, some with insufficient oxygen supplies, all with insufficient nursing numbers.
The note to staff added, ”Believe it or not, Royal London critical care is coping well relative to some sites.”
“Kent is in a similar, if not worse, position.”
The email also warned that “the rest of London is probably a couple of weeks behind.”