Covid 'past the peak' at Queen's and King George hospitals

Magda Smith, chief medical officer of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust

Magda Smith, chief medical officer of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. Picture: BHRUT - Credit: BHRUT

Queen's Hospital, Romford, and King George in Goodmayes are seeing a "slow decline" of beds occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Since the reports of Covid patients being treated in ambulances, oxygen shortages and full ITUs over Christmas and New Year, the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust (BHRUT) is reporting a decline in the number of patients.

Chief medical officer Magda Smith said:  "It's been really tough New Year period. It was around early January that BHRUT saw the peak in terms of Covid patients in our beds.

"It is now calmer."

The trust got to a point over Christmas when it had more than 500 patients admitted with Covid-19. Since then, the number has been slowly falling. It is now in the high 300s.

"It varies from day to day, it's definitely getting easier," she said: "At the moment that number is on a very slow but steady decline, which is really good news."

"It feels like we're past the peak at the moment. Obviously everything gets tracked on a daily basis and we take advice from public health experts, who are tracking on a bigger scale. There's no doubt we have fewer patients in our beds than three weeks ago. 

"We're sure that's because people have been complying, lockdown is having an impact. We're really conscious of how hard it is to be in lockdown for individuals, families, communities but it really has been worthwhile.

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"The biggest challenge is going to be when to decide to start relieving that lockdown. Of course we're not in a position to dictate that."

The intensive care unit has expanded up to 83 beds, double the normal capacity, and they are still "pretty full".

Magda explained: "A lot of the patients that we still do have are very very sick and this is to be expected. Last time [the first wave] the intensive care units stayed fuller for longer than the Covid patients in general wards.

"If you're in a general bed, you get better more quickly whereas in intensive care, it takes longer because you're sicker."

Following the complications with ambulances and oxygen, Magda says now measures have been to taken to prepare for if such situations were to reoccur.

"We are now in a position where the ambulances are able to offload, and we have all sorts of plans to make sure this stays the case should that situation have continued.

"We've created a new area for ambulance reception at Queen's Hospital, but we haven't needed to use it, which is good.

"In terms of oxygen, we're in a better position. We still monitor it very closely but the demand on the oxygen has come down to comfortable levels and a lot of the measures we had to take to meet the oxygen demand we are now able to reduce."

To add to the much awaited good news, the BHRUT vaccination programme is well under way and has now made a start in  vaccinating the tier 4 priority group which includes all those over 70 and the highly vulnerable. This, for example, will enable newly diagnosed cancer patients to be vaccinated before their treatment.

Magda recognises there are still many concerned about the safety of the vaccine, from her own BHRUT colleagues and as well as the community, but she wants to reassure residents that adverse reactions are extremely rare.

She explains: "The point of a vaccine is to make sure that your body recognises a foreign infection, whether it's Covid or any other, as soon as it's arrived so it can start attacking it a lot more quickly than if it had never met it before."

Havering was London's coronavirus epicentre long before the January lockdown was imposed and this may explain why it has now passed the peak earlier than other London boroughs. At Hampstead's Royal Free Hospital, staff are reporting a plateauing of Covid patients but not yet a decline, and have military medical personnel on hand to help out.

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