National lockdown too late without test and trace – North hit hardest by Covid-19 second wave

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Nottingham University NHS trust has twenty per cent of its general and acute beds full of Covid-19 patients

THE GOVERNMENT’S announcement of a national lockdown on 31st October, after trying to stave off this ‘nuclear’ option for two months with tiered restrictions, was not a minute too soon. Rather it was two months or more too late, given the lack of a proper test, trace and quarantine system.

Coronavirus infection rates have been soaring all over the north of England, and the Midlands, as demonstrated by heat maps.

The BBC publishes a daily map of England with colour coding for the different levels of coronavirus infection.

This shows that the areas with infection rates over 400/100,000 of the population lie predominantly north of the Watford Gap. At a snapshot period around 10 November, these were; East Lindsey (East Lincolnshire) 572, Hartlepool 551, Kirklees 525, Oldham 500, Lincolnshire 479, North Lincolnshire 467, Rochdale 476, Blackburn with Darwen 470, Boston 466, Redcar and Cleveland 465, Calderdale 452, Newcastle under Lyme 459, Stockton on Tees 446, South Staffordshire 412, East Staffordshire 414, Stafford 413, Bradford 412, Middlesbrough 429, Bury 409.

South of Watford Gap, there are Swale 654, and Thanet at 520, in Kent. Bristol 467, and Peterborough 428 also have higher level case rates.

Infection rates correlate with hospitalisations. As night follows day, rising infection rates lead to hospital admissions, to more patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs), and more deaths.

Health Service Journal gives charts showing ‘Covid patients, as a share of general and acute beds open last winter’, rather than absolute numbers.

As of 17th November, the 27 hospital trusts with the most Covid patients, as expressed as the filling of more than a 20% share of general and acute beds open last winter, are all from the North East (NE), the North West (NW) and Yorkshire, or the Midlands.

Barnsley hospital NHS FT had a 42% share, and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust had 20%. All the 25 hospital trusts with shares between 20% and 40%, are situated in the NE and Yorkshire, the NW and the Midlands except for two. Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS (BHRT) trust in North East London had 21.3% and Medway Trust in Kent 23%. The remaining 98 trusts had shares ranging from 19% down to 0.8%.

As surges of new patients with coronavirus are admitted, there takes place an enormous disruption and reorganisation of services. Elective surgery has to stop, or be diverted to the ‘independent’ sector. Beds, wards and staff have to be moved around rapidly. Hours of work go up.

Coming after the first wave, this causes huge stress. Where there is no regular testing of hospital staff, hospital acquired infections of Covid-19 spread to other in-patients and staff. Staff go off sick, leaving those left working under even more pressure. These enormous tensions are being felt all over the NHS especially to the north of the Watford Gap.

It is true that a lot has been learnt about how to manage patients with Covid-19, from lessons learnt in the first wave. There is now a much larger proportion of patients being treated with oxygen therapy on wards, rather than on mechanical ventilators, than in the first wave. But these wards still do need specialised staff, as do the intensive care units. These specialist respiratory and anaesthetic and theatre-trained staff, are in short supply.

Some accounts are given below. Bear in mind that the public information about what is actually going on in these overwhelmed hospitals is sparse. NHSE and hospital managements have strict instructions to keep the lid on allowing data to reach the public, and doctors are pretty well gagged.

The University Hospitals Trust Birmingham Foundation Trust, which runs the Queen Elizabeth, Heartlands and Good Hope, and Solihull hospital, now contains more Covid patients than any other trust in the country.

On the 20th November, the Chief Executive, Dr Rosser, was concerned that the admissions of patients with coronavirus would be double what they were in both March and April. He was trying to keep the Solihull Hospital free of Covid patients, rather than use the Nightingale hospital in the city, because there are not the staff to run both.

On the 14th November, a critical incident was declared at the two Lincolnshire hospitals Boston Pilgrim Hospital, and Lincoln County. There were so many Covid patients being admitted that sections of the hospital had to be closed. On top of the lack of beds, there was a lack of staff. Management started offering staff incentives to work extra hours, and postpone taking their annual leave. (HSJ 14.11.20)

Another hospital which has seen twice as many Covid patients as during the April peak, is Pinderfields hospital in Wakefield. By the 16th November, the hospital had more than 300 Covid patients, twice as many as the April peak. The doctor in charge of intensive care, Neil Allan, said: ‘We’re working a lot longer hours, working a lot of night shifts just to try and cover the service … we can’t really see an end to what’s happening.’ Nurses said the staff were exhausted.

In the week ending 11th November, there were 510 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people in Wakefield. (BBC 16.11.20)

By the end of October, Hull University Teaching Hospitals Trust, which runs Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital, noted a doubling of Covid hospitalisations from 21 to 53 patients in one week. (BBC 26.10.20 )

Hull, in East Yorkshire, had one of highest infection rates in the country at 746/100,000 population in the week ending 15.11.20 (BBC 21.11.20).

By the 16th November, Hull’s council leader announced a health emergency.

The number of Covid in-patients had soared to 180, in the two hospitals, and more were expected. The hospitals had to cancel elective surgery and transfer staff from the operating theatres to the ICU. (BBC 16.11.20)

Just as Tory MPs were building up a head of steam to oppose the national lockdown, the CE of the North Midlands University Trust, asked them to come to visit, to witness the pressure the hospital was under.

In the last week of October, 157 new Covid patients were admitted, almost surpassing the number of Covid patients they had at the peak of the first wave. Like all trusts, they were short of staff because of illness, or self-isolation.

By the 4th November, the Nottinghamshire hospitals had more beds occupied with Covid patients than at the spring peak. Their death rate went up to eight deaths a day, compared to just two deaths during the whole of July and August.

Shortly after the National Lockdown was proclaimed on 31st October, Greater Manchester hospital bosses announced that they were receiving more Covid patients than in the first wave of the pandemic and would scale back non- urgent operations, at the following: Royal Bolton, Fairfield General, Manchester Royal Infirmary, The Royal Oldham, Salford Royal, Stepping Hill, Tameside General, Trafford General and the three sites at Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh and Wythenshawe hospital. They would try and maintain cancer services and most other care. (BBC 7.11.20)

The sudden surge in coronavirus infection rates in Nottingham city and environs followed the return of students for the new university term. The university of Nottingham logged 425 positive cases amongst its students in the week to the 2nd October. (BBC 4.11.20) This phenomenon was seen all over the country in the university towns, as one million students started their courses.

The CE of Nottingham University Hospitals, Tracy Taylor, said the ‘dramatic increase’ in cases meant she was effectively losing an extra ward every day to new Covid cases. (BBC 29.10.20)

One of the ‘critical incidents’ south of the Watford Gap took place at Medway Trust, in Kent. In early November, it suddenly filled up with Covid patients, to around 20% of its normal bed base getting near to the figure of 130 such patients, which it had at the peak of the first wave, causing huge stress for staff.

Medway had 25 confirmed Covid deaths in the week ending 14th November, putting it in the same league as the BHRT, which between them had the twin highest hospital deaths recorded outside of the NW, NE and Midlands, at that time.

As has been the situation in many hospitals, some of the Covid patients who died caught the infection in hospital.

A huge price is being paid for the government’s total rejection of the scientific approach to tackling the pandemic as laid out by the World Health Organisation at the start. On top of the mounting levels of unnecessary deaths, a widespread withdrawal and diversion of NHS services and wearing out of NHS staff and neglect of training is the result.

The sooner we get a workers’ government and socialism, the better.