'We're running out of oxygen': Doctor makes emotional plea as NHS on brink of COVID crisis

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·6-min read
One of five Covid-19 wards at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside. A medical director at the hospital has said the need to continue operations at the same time as treating coronavirus patients has "significantly complicated" the second wave.
One of five COVID-19 wards at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside. (PA)

A doctor has made an emotional plea that hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

In a widely shared Twitter thread, Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, president of the Doctor’s Association UK, said that she and her colleagues are “at breaking point”.

It comes as Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said the UK is "back in the eye of the storm" as the number of patients being treated for coronavirus in England's hospitals overtook April’s peak.

NHS England’s latest figures revealed that 20,426 patients were being treated for coronavirus in hospitals as of 8am on Monday, compared with the 18,974 patients recorded on 12 April.

Read: 'No evidence' new variant of coronavirus has greater impact on children

Senior medical experts have now warned of the “cost” of households mixing in the festive period after doctors and nurses spent Christmas Day attending to “wall-to-wall” coronavirus patients while Boris Johnson faces calls to bring in tougher lockdown restrictions.

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove has refused to rule out the entirety of England entering Tier 4 rules.

It comes as the majority of the seven Nightingale field hospitals are reportedly yet to treat COVID patients during the second wave despite the surge in infections.

One senior doctor said some trusts in London and the South East are considering the option of setting up tents outside hospitals to triage patients.

Emergency medicine consultant Simon Walsh said staff are working in “major incident mode” and called on the government to set out a “coherent plan” to get through the coming weeks.

Paramedics in London are receiving support from other ambulance services in the South as they receive up to 8,000 emergency 999 calls each day.

South Central Ambulance Service said it is “pre-warning” the military and fire service that paramedics may need help after an average increase of 10% in 999 calls over the Christmas period and a threefold rise in 111 calls, along with a 60%-70% increase in absence rates with staff symptomatic or self-isolating.

Meanwhile, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in south-east London has declared a major incident over fears about a shortage of oxygen caused by the demand from coronavirus patients on its wards, according to the Independent.

Hospital staff on one of five Covid-19 wards at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside where patients are taken to recover from the virus.
Hospital staff on one of five COVID-19 wards at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside, where patients are taken to recover from the virus. (PA)

Dr Batt-Rawden, who runs a network of more than 46,000 doctors, wrote on Twitter that the situation on the frontline is “really bad” and asked people to spread the word to support the NHS.

She wrote: “Hospitals are running out of oxygen. One trust has no non-invasive machines left. ICUs are tweeting for volunteers to prone patients.

“Transfer teams being requested to move patients 65+ miles to nearest hospital with critical care capacity. Please. Stay at home if you can.”

Dr Batt-Rawden added that NHS staff “are at breaking point” but are being shot down on Twitter or being told coronavirus is all a hoax when they try to speak up about the situation.

Read: UK faces 'catastrophe' in coming weeks unless Boris Johnson declares tougher COVID rules

She said: “Today we learnt that we have more patients with COVID in hospital than ever before in the England. This is not a drill. Please believe us

“We are incredibly thin on the ground. NHS staff have not been prioritised for the vaccine and are going off sick in droves with the new strain.

“Trusts are so desperate they are tweeting out for medical students to help in ICU. This was confirmed by a consultant on the ground.”

To those trying to underplay the situation, she said: “Try holding an iPad for a patient to say goodbye to their family. Or having to a ventilate a colleague.

“This is real & happening right now. Staff are broken and need support now more than ever.

“But even though there are people questioning what NHS staff are saying. There’s no conspiracy. I’m a senior registrar working in intensive care in the South East. I’m also President of @TheDA_UK. And exhausted. This is me.”

“Please help NHS staff speak up about how things are on the frontline. It’s dire. And we are shouting it from the rooftops.”

Other medical professionals have come forward to make public appeals to the public about how overstretched NHS staff and hospitals are.

Watch: NHS doctor describes ‘serious situation’ in England’s hospitals

Dr Sonia Adesara said: “The hospitals are extremely busy – we have seen a massive rise in people coming in with Covid-19 over the past week and this is on top of an increase in the non-Covid cases we see at this time of year.

“Just like the first wave we are also suffering from staff shortages, staff are getting Covid-19 again and it is extremely difficult, the hospitals are very full.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said: “We are working all-out in the NHS – doctors and nurses are having leave cancelled, they’re doing extra shifts, they’re working extra long hours but its an extremely serious situation.

“The situation is untenable and I think we are very close to becoming overwhelmed.”

Dr Adesara said ambulance queues are now commonplace as a shortage of beds means they are unable to offload their patients.

“There’s a difficult situation for having capacity for beds and we have to keep our COVID-19 and non-COVID patients separate,” she said.

“When you don’t have any spare beds you get a backlog and that means you get a backlog of ambulances who can’t offload their patients.”

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She added: “In April we were mainly just dealing with COVID-19 patients, and everything else we weren’t really seeing in A&E, but at this time of year because of the cold weather as well we are seeing maybe half to three-quarters of patients coming to us with COVID-19 but we also have non-COVID patients to deal with as well.”

But she said compared to April, medical staff were getting much, much better and more experienced at treating the virus.

“We are doing all that we can and we will continue doing all that we can to keep everyone safe and make sure everyone is cared for, but I do think if we continue with current rate of admissions we are very, very close to becoming overwhelmed.”

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