Royal Free and Whittington under pressure amid London 'major incident'

The Royal Free in Hampstead and the Whittington Hospital in Archway. Pictures: PA

The Royal Free in Hampstead and the Whittington Hospital in Archway. Pictures: PA - Credit: Archant

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident across the city with coronavirus cases spiralling — and in north London the Royal Free and the Whittington are working rapidly to increase capacity where possible. 

City Hall said Covid-19 cases in London have exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 people and that there are 35% more people in hospital with the virus than in the previous peak of the pandemic last April.

A “major incident” means the “severity of the consequences” associated with it are “likely to constrain or complicate the ability of responders to resource and manage the incident”.

Mr Khan has written to the prime minister asking for more financial support for self-isolating Londoners, and for places of worship to be closed.

He said: “The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control.

“Our heroic doctors, nurses and NHS staff are doing an amazing job, but with cases rising so rapidly, our hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed."

The latest NHS England figures show that on January 3, the Royal Free NHS Trust as a whole had 95 adult critical care beds — intensive care or high-dependency beds — available and 94 were in use. 

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On the same day at the Whittington, all 11 critical care beds were being used. 

Both hospitals have in the last ten days taken steps including limiting staff holiday and cancelling.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. - Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

It is understood that the Whittington specifically has repurposed theatre space and freed up general purpose wards to increase it's capacity to safely care for Covid patients. 

Government data from January 5, the last date available, shows the Whittington Trust had 179 Covid patients in hospital, with 488 at the Royal Free's three hospitals in Hampstead, Barnet and Chase Farm. 

On January 6, the data suggests there were more than 7,000 Covid patients in hospitals across London.

A Whittington Health spokesperson said: "Like the whole NHS, Whittington Health is currently experiencing pressure as a result of a rapid increase in Covid positive patients.

"However, the safety of our patients remains our top priority and our staff are working tirelessly to ensure that we can continue to provide safe, effective and compassionate care to those who require it."

Earlier this month, a Royal Free spokesperson said that, similarly,  "plans to manage a second surge" were in place.

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