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Liverpool’s NHS trust claims its intensive care units are only 80% full and quieter than usual

Liverpool’s NHS trust claims its intensive care units are only 80% full and quieter than usual

Pratibha walia
Liverpool’s NHS trust claims its intensive care units are only 80% full and quieter than usual

Intensive care units at Liverpool’s biggest NHS trust are no busier than normal for this time of year, it emerged today.

Councillor Paul Brant sparked fears yesterday after claiming the city’s critical-care units were already 95 per cent full and ‘filling up very fast’ amid a spike in Covid-19 cases.

But Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs three hospitals across the city, dismissed the claim, insisting their units were only 80 per cent full yesterday morning with just 47 of 61 critical-care beds occupied. 

This means they are quieter than normal for this time of year, MailOnline revealed yesterday. The trust’s intensive care unit is normally 85 per cent full in October. 

However, doctors fear hospitalisations will surge in the coming weeks because of a spike in coronavirus cases. It can take patients up to a fortnight to become seriously ill and need NHS treatment for the disease. 

It comes as data shows Liverpool’s infection rate has more than tripled since the end of September, leaving the city as one of the UK’s Covid-19 hotspots.

More than 500 cases were diagnosed for every 100,000 people living in the city in the week ending October 9 — up from around 150 over a fortnight ago, according to Government data.

Liverpool is currently the only place in England to have been plunged into a ‘Tier 3’ lockdown, with gyms, pubs and other hospitality venues forced to close for four-weeks to stem the tide of infections. 

NHS data reveals the units are normally 85 per cent occupied at this time of year. But at present they are only 80 per cent full, the hospital trust has said

Hospitalisations across the country have been rising since the end of August, yesterday reaching levels higher than the start of June

Hospitalisations across the country have been rising since the end of August, yesterday reaching levels higher than the start of June

Percentage of critical-care bed capacity used

There are at least 60 critical-care beds across the Aintree University Hospital, Royal Liverpool University Hospital and Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool.

Below is the proportion of these beds occupied in October over the last ten years:

October 2010: 90 per cent

October 2011: 91 per cent

October 2012: 80 per cent

October 2013: 81 per cent

October 2014: 88 per cent

October 2015: 86 per cent

October 2016: 93 per cent 

October 2017: 82 per cent

October 2018: 91 per cent

October 2019: 86 per cent

October 2020: 95 per cent*

Going on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday councillor Brant, cabinet member for adult health and social care WHERE?, sparked fears of an impending crisis by warning the city’s hospitals were fast approaching capacity.

‘It has become clear that the intensity of the demand on hospital services here in Liverpool is crowding out anything other than dealing with Covid-19,’ he said.

His concerns were echoed by a top paediatrician on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), who was awarded an MBE last week.

Professor Callum Semple, who also works as a doctor in the city, warned yesterday 90 per cent of critical-care beds were full.

In a video released by Liverpool City Council he said that without action their critical-care capacity would be exceeded in a week. 

‘We have got over 300 patients in beds and our intensive care capacity is currently running at 90 per cent,’ he said.

‘At this rate we are looking at exceeding healthcare capacity in the next week or so.’ 

But Liverpool University Hospitals Trust – which represents the city’s three hospitals of Aintree University Hospital, Liverpool Royal University Hospital and Broadgreen Hospital – has said its critical-care units are emptier than normal for this time of year.

A spokesperson told MailOnline that should admissions surge, the hospitals will be able to add more critical-care beds to their units. 

It is not clear how much extra capacity the trust could make.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised an extra 2,500 beds at the end of the first wave, not including those available in temporary hospitals, reports the BBC.

There are currently 4,000 critical-care beds in England as a whole, NHS chiefs say. At the start of March four in five of these were occupied.

Doctors in Liverpool also told the Financial Times that they have other beds with ventilators and CPAP machines, to help patients breathe, available to assist with an influx of Covid-19 patients.

But these are not counted as critical-care beds, which the Liverpool Trust said still stood at 61.

For comparison, they had 60 last October and were 86 per cent occupied on the last Thursday of the month, with 51 occupied.

The Trust sends figures on their capacity at 12pm every day to the region’s Critical Care Network database, which monitors emerging bed-space problems across the area.

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It had as many as 88 per cent of beds occupied on the last Thursday of October 2018, with 52 out of 59 occupied.

The most critical-care beds were occupied in October 2016, when the unit was at 93 per cent capacity with 53 of 58 beds in use. 

And the least critical-care beds were occupied in October 2012, when 80 per cent were full or 40 out of 48 beds. 

A senior doctor told the Financial Times yesterday that 58 out of 60 critical-care beds were full but they did not say when this critical threshold was reached.

‘We’ve got plenty of ventilators but we don’t have the beds. There’s a feeling of dread at the moment,’ he said.

Liverpool University Hospital’s Trust chief executive Steve Warburton told staff in a memo on Monday that they had reached a ‘critical point’.

He said planned procedures were already been scaled back, adding they were ‘taking a phased approach to reducing our elective programme, while exploring options with other providers to maintain some of this work in alternative locations’.

He added: ‘We will continue to prioritize surgery based on clinical need, with a view to maintaining urgent and cancer surgery where possible.

‘We will continue to maintain access to outpatient appointments wherever possible, and maintain diagnostic activity.’

GPs in Liverpool were warned yesterday that the city’s two biggest hospitals were ‘full’ and they should consider ‘stepping up care at home’ for patients to avoid admissions, reports the Financial Times.

Covid-19 patients are filling up beds at Royal Liverpool University Hospital (pictured)

Covid-19 patients are filling up beds at Royal Liverpool University Hospital (pictured)

In a letter Fiona Lemmens, who chairs Liverpool’s clinical commissioning group, said the situation was ‘very concerning’.

‘Both (Aintree University Hospital and The Royal Liverpool University Hospital) are now full and the system is putting in place significant mutual aid to help continue urgent elective and cancer work so you may hear of your patients being transferred to other hospitals for their surgery,’ she warned.

All the indicators ‘are that the situation is going to get worse over the next two to three weeks as our current high community transmission rates convert into hospital admissions.’

She added they can ‘expect to see growing demand for hospital and (intensive treatment unit) beds).’ 

As of yesterday there were more than 300 patients with coronavirus in Liverpool’s hospitals, according to Professor Semple. At the peak of the first wave in April there were 400 Covid-19 patients in the city’s hospitals.

Government data for the number of Covid-19 patients on ventilators in the North West shows there were 140 on October 13, a 30 per cent rise on the same time last week.

The figures cannot be broken down by cities or towns, as the Government does not publish data at this level.

There is no Nightingale Hospital in Liverpool to help hospitals cope with increased demand, but there is one with 750 beds in neighbouring Manchester.

Councillor Brant has been contacted by MailOnline for comment. 

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