Doctors are warning of a huge rise in the number of Covid patients needing to be put on ventilators and say the country is heading for a third wave of the pandemic.
Medics fear the number of people currently fighting for their lives in intensive care will double from the current figure of 551 to at least 1,000 now that most of the restrictions have been lifted.
The numbers of those on ventilators has already increased in line with the doubling of daily infections since the end of June.
At the current rate of increase in Covid infections it is possible that the 1,000 figure for patients on ventilators could be reached by as soon as the end of August.
Most of those now on ventilators are young people who have not been vaccinated although the numbers are understood to include some patients who have had at least one jab and in some cases two.
Last night a long serving professor of intensive care in London said it was “extremely likely’ that the 1,000 figure would be reached.
“It’s frustrating that we have people in our ICU. Our patients are now overwhelmingly young people who have not been vaccinated and, in some instances, older adults,” said the professor, who asked not to be named.
“Most will recover but they will tie up intensive care bed sometimes for weeks. Staff are still tired from the previous waves and now Covid is coming back to hit them again on top of our normal workload.
“We had one elderly couple who had been vaccinated and they wondered why it had happened to them. It was bad luck I told them. The vaccine is not 100 per cent, but it’s better than not being vaccinated. They are likely to recover thanks to the vaccine and haven’t needed ventilation.”
Barts, London’s largest health trust, is now treating 19 Covid patients in intensive care at the Royal London Hospital compared to seven at the end of June.
In just four days last week the number of Covid patients on ventilators rose from 437-545 – five times higher than the lowest figure for the year in mid-May when the number was 120.
The number of patients on ventilators has not been as high since April 12th when 522 people were in ICU.
At the peak of the pandemic, in late January, more than 4,000 people were in ICU. But numbers, say intensive care doctors, are no longer insignificant.
“The fact that the numbers on ventilators continues to rise is of concern,” added one medic. “We may not see as many deaths but we really shouldn’t be seeing numbers going up. like this.”
The North East of England is understood to have some of the highest rates of patients on ventilators.
The rise in Covid cases in hospital and the number of intensive care beds occupied is even leading some trusts to cancel operations, including life-saving transplant surgery.
The specialist Covid ICU at Barts was closed in spring when the number of intensive care patients fell to fewer than five.
Its opening up may be linked to the fact that its local community has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country with just 33 per cent of people jabbed, compared to twice as many people who have vaccinated nationally.
A Barts spokesman said: “We have plans in place to care for increased numbers of patients with Covid-19 in the coming weeks. “In line with our operational plans our dedicated Covid critical care unit at The Royal London Hospital has re-opened.”
Anaesthetist Parjam Zolfaghari tweeted: “On the eve of reopening the Royal London Hospital Covid ICU, we thank the 1000+ staff who came and worked to look after our patients. Next wave is arriving, protect yourselves and those around you.”