Hospital turns staff canteen into makeshift ward as Omicron surge swamps the NHS



A hospital canteen is being converted into a makeshift medical ward as the NHS buckles under the Omicron surge.

Fifty beds are being installed in the staff canteen and physio gyms at the Royal Preston Hospital as the North West becomes the country’s Covid hotspot.

The 700-bed hospital in Lancashire also began building a Nightingale hub in a car park today with capacity for 100 more patients.

It is one of eight makeshift Nightingale centres being prepared across England in case soaring infections overwhelm hospitals.

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals said is had closed its Charters canteen “to allow us to prepare the space for potential use by patients if the Omicron variant results in the need for additional surge beds”.

The hospital’s canteen and gyms are being transformed into a ward
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Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

It added: “We are also looking at other potential space including our physio gyms and in total around 50 beds could be provided by using such space.”

It came as the Ministry of Defence announced 200 military personnel were being deployed to help the NHS in London.

Expected to be on task for three weeks, they were dispatched as 40 teams of five, each comprised of one medic and four general duties personnel.

Rising Covid cases and staff absences have seen at least 24 NHS trusts declare critical incidents but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tried to claim today such pressure is “not entirely unusual”.

NHS leaders warned Boris Johnson ’s claims the NHS is not being overwhelmed “will not chime with the experience of staff”.

Hospitals around the country have experienced an increasing number of admissions
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Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

Boris Johnson would not give a definition of the NHS being overwhelmed during the latest Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, but he admitted some trusts will feel “temporarily overwhelmed”.

New analysis confirmed parts of the health service are currently overwhelmed amid calls for the Government to provide an independent definition.

The Institute for Public Policy Research, writing for the Mirror, says a clear metric must be announced based on bed occupancy, staff absence rates and patient outcome measures.

Mr Shapps told Sky News: “There are 137 trusts, there are 24 which are critical, it’s not entirely unusual for hospitals to go critical over the winter with things like the flu pandemic.

“But there are very real pressures which I absolutely recognise.”

Boris Johnson claimed the NHS is not being overwhelmed
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Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock)

At least two dozen NHS trusts have declared critical incidents to notify partner organisations that “patients may have been harmed or the environment is not safe”.

A board meeting for University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHMN) NHS trust heard that it expects to declare a “critical incident” within days.

Today new data confirmed the North West and North East now have the largest regional outbreaks in England, alongside hotspots in the Midlands and Wales.

Royal Stoke and County Hospital in Stafford is suffering staff absence levels of 30% and around 20 elective procedures a day are being cancelled.

Paul Bytheway, chief operating officer at University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHMN) told Wednesday’s monthly board meeting: “We’re not at that point yet where we need to do that. But it will probably come in the next week, and we all need to be mindful of that.

“Once we get to that point there will be standing down of diagnostics, either because we need the staff, or because staff are sick and not able to deliver.”

Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust in the East Midlands said it was operating at 100% bed occupancy.

At least two dozen NHS trusts have declared critical incidents
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Getty Images)

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “The Prime Minister’s attempts to reassure the public that the NHS is not being overwhelmed will not chime with the experience of staff working in some parts of the NHS.

“The Government now needs to do all it can to mobilise more staff and other resources for the NHS to get through this extremely challenging period.”

Today saw 179,756 more positive tests reported and 231 more Covid deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Latest testing surveillance data from the UK Health Security Agency showed Covid rates now highest in the North West, followed by the North East.

Four hospital trusts – Co Durham and Darlington, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland, and North Tees and Hartlepool – have all halted hospital visits.

Members of the public queue to receive a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre outside Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London
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AFP via Getty Images)

Colin Cox, Cumbria director of public health, said: “It is touch and go that North Cumbria will declare Level 4, which is the highest level.

“This is due to staffing problems and increased demand.”

In the seven days to Jan 1, Copeland in Cumbria recorded 3,076 cases per 100,000 people, a rise of 130% on the previous week.

That was the highest level of infection recorded in England. Barrow came second highest, with 3,024 cases per 100,000 people – a rise of 94%.

It comes as at least 17 hospitals across the North West have axed non-urgent treatments and operations due to surging Omicron cases and staff absences.

Chris Thomas, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research said: “This litany is indicative of an NHS unravelling across the country.

“The consequence will be unnecessary death and disease – while the Government maintain a stubborn state of denial.

“That is why we need the Government to set out a clear, statutory definition for what an ‘overwhelmed’ NHS looks like.

“Only by doing this can we objectively judge the situation facing the NHS and ensure appropriate action is taken.

Rising Covid cases and staff absences have seen at least 24 NHS trusts declare critical incidents
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Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

“It’s farcical that a Government minister can declare on one day that the NHS isn’t overwhelmed – and a day later, an NHS trust be forced to tell a patient with a possible heart attack to ‘get a lift’ into hospital, rather than wait for an ambulance.”

New data shows fewer than half of all adults in some of the biggest cities in England have received a Covid-19 booster.

Take-up of the third dose among over-18s was 49.1% in Liverpool, 46.9% in Birmingham, 45.7% in Manchester and 42.8% in Nottingham as of January 2.

Newham in London is the local authority in England with the lowest take-up of booster and third doses among all adults (38.5%), followed by the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets (38.6%), Barking & Dagenham (39.2%) and Westminster (40.3%).

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said there is a need to communicate to the general public “the pressure that general practice is under and explain why it isn’t possible to provide the service, the access and the quality of care that we would expect and want to be able to provide”.

New data from King’s College London ZOE COVID Study looking at people with symptomatic Covid suggests cases in England may have flatlined with a R of 1.

However cases are still rising rapidly in parts of the Midlands, Wales and northern England as well as rising in older age groups.

Dr Claire Steves, of King’s, said: “Data shows that this slow down is being driven by cases falling in London and in younger age groups.

“However it’s worrying to see cases increasing in the over 75 age group. This is the group we need to protect as they are the most likely to be hospitalised.

“It’s too early to know if cases have truly peaked in London, as schools are yet to reopen after the holidays.

“The health and care systems are already under huge pressure, so we all need to take personal responsibility for limiting the spread of Covid.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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