But the head of the NHS in England said tomorrow’s month-long lockdown should avoid the need for a nationwide postponement of non-emergency surgery, though “targeted” local restrictions were likely.
Last night, there were 990 inpatients with coronavirus in the capital’s hospitals, meaning the number is almost certain to reach four figures today – a level last seen in May.
When the first lockdown was imposed on March 23, there were 1,515 Covid-19 inpatients in the capital.
Latest Government figures show that Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) is the worst affected in London.
Last week BHRUT, which runs Queen’s hospital in Romford and King George in Ilford, was at 62 per cent of the level of covid patients seen during the first peak, raising concerns about its ability to cope as the second wave progresses alongside the usual increase in winter admissions.
BHRUT, which draws patients from across east London and west Essex, said last night that covid patients were occupying 19 per cent of its beds.
Magda Smith, chief medical officer, said: “With a higher prevalence of Covid-19 among our communities than other parts of London, we are seeing an increase in admissions.
“Thanks to our work to change the way our hospitals operate following the first peak, we are carefully managing any impact Covid-19 has on our services and appointments and procedures are still going ahead as planned.”
Nationally, health chiefs were due to lay bare the extent of the growing pressure on the NHS as GPs were asked to prepare to start delivering a vaccine from next month.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said that, as a result of the second lockdown starting tomorrow, the NHS would “not need to embark on a national deferral of routine operations” – as happened in the first peak – across the country.
However “targeted local decisions” would continue to be made about postponing elective surgery and other procedures, something he said had already happened with about a quarter of routine operations in the North West.
Sir Simon told the Today programme: “If you look at, for example, what has happened during October in the South-East, where there has been a limited impact of coronavirus, hospitals have been operating at more than 9/10ths of their usual capacity.
“Whereas in the North West, coronavirus has had a displacing impact and about a quarter of routine operations that hospitals in the North West would be doing have not been able to take place because of coronavirus.”
He said that the NHS in England currently had just under 11,000 Covid-19 patients – or “22 hospitals’ worth of coronavirus patients across England”.
He said that since the Prime Minister announced the nationwide lockdown on Saturday “we have filled another two hospitals full of severely ill coronavirus patients”.
“These absolutely are desperately sick patients in hospitals,” Sir Simon said. “In many parts of the country we are now seeing more coronavirus patients in hospital than we saw in the first peak in April.”
Last night it emerged that GPs are to be invited to bid for extra work administering the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it is approved by regulators.
Pulse magazine said people over 85 and frontline health workers would be the first to receive the jab, which would be administered in care homes and large “delivery centres”.
Sir Simon confirmed that today and said that he was “gearing the NHS up” to be able to make a start on delivering a vaccine “before Christmas”, if one became available.
He said that routine covid testing of asymptomatic NHS frontline staff had begun in high prevalence areas, with more than 70,000 staff tested.
This would be rolled out to all “patient-facing staff” in the next six to eight weeks as a result of the availability of new saliva tests.