While the number of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions has started to fall nationally, intensive care units are seeing younger patients who are surviving the virus but often with longer stays in critical care, meaning continued pressure on beds, particularly in urban areas like Birmingham.
The University Hospitals Birmingham Trust still has more than 700 Covid patients across its three main hospital sites with 166 in intensive care on Wednesday.
The trust has been forced to airlift some patients to Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Trust, more than 200 miles away, and University Hospital Southampton, 150 miles away.
While the numbers of patients in hospitals are falling, there were still almost 21,000 hospital patients with Covid on Wednesday, with the West Midlands reporting 4,258 patients almost equal to London’s 4,279 and 1,258 more than the next closest region, the northwest.
The latest coronavirus data shows there were more than 13,000 positive infections and 1,001 deaths reported on Wednesday.
One clinician at the trust told The Independent: “We are sending regularly to Newcastle by air.
“While the rest of the country seems to be calming down, our rate of admissions just keeps going up. Our pressures just aren’t going away. It’s relentless, and so tiring.
“We have admitted and transferred out the equivalent of our ICU capacity probably five times over in January alone. We’d have had a disaster without transferring out.”
The transfers are being run by the Adult Critical Care Co-ordination and Transfer Service, part of the Midlands critical care network.
On its website the service said: “A small number of transfers are necessary because of a physical lack of bed space, or nursing or medical staff to allow ongoing safe care: these are known as ‘capacity transfers’. We try very hard to avoid transfers to other intensive care units for these reasons but there are times when it needs to happen to allow safe care to be delivered to all our patients.”
A spokesperson for UHB was not allowed to provide any information about the transferring of patients by NHS England, but in a statement said: “While the trust is still under pressure from Covid admissions, it is vital that people continue to follow government guidance and do everything possible to reduce transmission.”
Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust has received around 30 hospital transfers from across the UK.
A spokesperson for the NHS in northeast and Yorkshire region said: “The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to manage significant pressure either from high Covid-19 infection rates or non-Covid winter demands and this has always included mutual aid practices whereby hospitals work together to manage admissions across the region or further afield if required.”
At a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said coronavirus infections and hospital admissions nationally were continuing to fall.
He said: “All of the numbers are trending in the right direction, coming down quite well because of the effects of lockdown.”
But he warned “caution” was still needed on lifting lockdown measures.
He said there were still a “significant number of people in high-risk groups” who had not been vaccinated.
“Those people remain at risk and so it’s important we go cautiously in opening up, in order to be able to measure the effects,” Sir Patrick added.
Boris Johnson urged people yet to receive a coronavirus vaccine to come forward for jabs.
The prime minister said: “With less than a week to go until the target date of Monday the 15th, there’s no doubt we’ve made great strides, with just over 13 million people now vaccinated in our United Kingdom, including one in four adults in England, over 90 per cent of everyone over 75 and over 90 per cent of eligible residents of care homes for the elderly.
“But that still leaves nearly two million people, a population roughly twice the size of Birmingham, that we still hope to reach.”