Number of Covid patients at the Royal Free doubles in a week to 400

Royal Free Hospital

By December 29, the Royal Free hospital trust was treating 400 in-patients for Covid-19, according to NHS data. - Credit: PA Wire/Daniel Leal Olivas

More than 600 coronavirus patients are now being treated in two local hospitals, with numbers doubling in the last week of December. 

Both the Royal Free and Whittington hospitals had already cancelled “non-urgent” services due to rising cases, but have since seen the number of Covid patients continue to soar.   

One nurse described conditions as "unbearable", with patients left in corridors and spending up to three hours in ambulances.

Pressure is expected to escalate even further in the coming weeks, as the surrounding boroughs’ infection rates mushroom.   

Whilst hospital cases plateaued and then began falling between three and four weeks after the November lockdown began, they started rising again as soon as it was lifted.  


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At the Royal Free London trust's hospitals in Hampstead and Barnet, cases initially peaked on December 6, with 113 beds occupied, then began gradually falling, dropping to 95 by December 15.  

But in the week between December 15 and 22, cases shot up again, more than doubling to a record 210.  

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On December 21, the trust took “the difficult decision to temporarily pause all non-urgent planned procedures/operations, and non-urgent and consultant-led out-patient services.” 

A week later, on December 29, beds occupied by Covid-19 patients had almost doubled again, to 400 - just under a third of the trust's 1,289 beds. 

The Whittington Hospital turned blue for the NHS' 72nd birthday. Picture: Whittington Health

By December 29, the Whittington hospital trust had more than 120 Covid-19 patients occupying beds. - Credit: Whittington Health

Whittington 

Cases at the Whittington Health NHS Trust in Highgate followed a similar trajectory.  

Speaking to PA media, a nurse at the hospital claimed that one patient was left without oxygen when their cylinder ran out. 

"Patient safety is being affected,” the nurse said. “Some are in corridors, being looked after in makeshift areas, makeshift wards have been created for Covid patients, and ICUs are running out of space.

“Staff have got low morale – we haven’t even gotten over the first wave physically, emotionally and mentally, and now we’re having to deal with this second wave.”

On December 15, the trust had 33 Covid-19 patients. By December 22, that had more than doubled to 67.  

That day, the trust ceased “non-urgent” services, saying: “Based upon what we are seeing now and looking ahead, we anticipate that the demand for our services will continue to rise.” 

This proved correct. A week later, on December 29, Covid-19 patients accounted for 121 beds.  The trust has 346 beds. 

What next? 

Data suggests the hospitals will face even greater pressure in the coming weeks, as infection rates have consistently risen in the surrounding boroughs of Camden, Barnet and Haringey.  

All three saw infection rates more than double between December 15 and 29.  

Barnet had the greatest increase, rising 146pc in two weeks, from 379.2 cases per 100,000 people on December 15, to 933.1 cases on December 29. 

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