Boris Johnson tonight unveiled a chart claiming to show how NHS England’s hospitals could be overwhelmed with coronavirus in weeks – but experts say the health service is still no busier than it normally is during winter.
At a Downing Street press conference officially welcoming the nation into second national lockdown misery, the Prime Minister and NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens pointed to the graph as evidence to justify the month-long intervention.
The chart showed how there are more than 11,000 people with Covid-19 being treated in hospitals in England now compared to just 500 at the start of September – following a wave of infections when universities and schools went back. But what the graphic didn’t show was that those 11,000 patients represent fewer than 10 per cent of the health service’s overall capacity and that new infections have now flat-lined.
Top experts fumed to MailOnline today that No10 has only hit the lockdown panic button because it was backed into a corner by its ‘gloomster’ scientific advisers who don’t want to deal with the same scrutiny that was hurled their way during the first wave.
In an attempt to illustrate how hospitals would continue to fill up in the coming weeks, Mr Johnson and Sir Simon also played an animation explaining to the public there is a lag in the time it takes for a Covid-19 patient to fall ill enough to be hospitalised. The clip aimed to show how a wave of acute and intensive care admissions were coming down the pipeline if infections continue to rise, unless lockdown action was taken.
But, by the Government’s own admission, Covid-19 cases have plateaued thanks to the localised three-tiered approach introduced in mid-October. It suggests the blow to hospitals would not be as severe as No10 or its advisers claim.
In a thinly-veiled swipe at Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, Sir Simon said he chose to bring just one Covid-19 graph with him to convey his point about hospitals. Downing Street’s top advisers have been accused of scaremongering and confusing the public with their barrage of doomsday charts based on projections, assumptions and forecasts – but rarely actual concrete, real-time data.
Speaking into the camera, Sir Simon said: ‘Like you – I’m sure the Prime Minister won’t mind me saying so – I have watched these press briefings and sometimes the charts can be a bit hard to keep up with, so I have just got one chart today that indisputably sets out what we in the health service are seeing.
‘What it shows is the number of patients that are being looked after in hospitals across England. At the beginning of September that was under 500 patients. By the beginning of October that had become 2,000 coronavirus in- patients, and, now, at the beginning of November that is over 11,000. That’s the equivalent of 22 of our hospitals across England full of coronavirus patients – those are facts, those are not projections, forecasts, speculations, those are the patients in the hospital today.’
Hours before the press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned the health service could collapse and seriously ill non-Covid patients could be turned away unless Covid-19’s resurgence is nipped in the bud.
But eminent doctors and scientists told MailOnline ministers had got their priorities twisted by sacrificing people’s physical and mental wellbeing to save the NHS — which was designed to protect the people.
They claimed wards are no busier than they normally are at this time of year and that a large chunk of the people being treated for Covid-19 were either already in hospital when they caught the virus or would’ve been admitted for other reasons.
Boris Johnson tonight unveiled a chart claiming to show how NHS England’s hospitals could be overwhelmed with Covid-19 in weeks – but experts say the health service is still no busier than it normally is during winter. The chart showed how there are more than 11,000 people with Covid-19 being treated in hospitals in England now compared to just 500 at the start of September. But what the graphic didn’t show was that those 11,000 patients represent fewer than 10 per cent of the health service’s overall capacity
At a Downing Street press conference officially welcoming the nation into its second national lockdown, the Prime Minister (left) and NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens (right) pointed to the graph as evidence to justify the month-long intervention
In an attempt to illustrate how hospitals would continue to fill up in the coming weeks, Mr Johnson and Sir Simon also played an animation explaining to the public there is a lag in the time it takes for a Covid-19 patient to fall ill enough to be hospitalised and eventually die
Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan, an expert in evidence-based medicine and practicing GP, said his analysis suggested a fifth of infected patients in the NHS acquired the virus in hospital, meaning they were already taking up a bed before contracting the disease.
NHS England has about 140,000 beds at its disposal – including capacity at the seven Nightingales built during the first wave and thousands of beds commandeered from the private sector – and currently there are just 11,000 Covid-19 patients in its hospitals. It means people with the disease are occupying fewer than 10 per cent of the health service’s overall capacity.
Leaked documents suggest the NHS on a national scale is actually treating fewer patients than it was last year. Just 84 per cent of all hospital beds were occupied across the country on Tuesday, according to the document, which is lower than the 92 per cent recorded over the autumn of 2019.
It is true that a small handful of hospitals in hotspots in the North West are under strain after bearing the brunt of a surge in infections in recent months. But Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist and professor of medicine at the University of Buckingham, said: ‘This is supposed to be a national health service, if Leeds’ ICU is full, we can send patients to Newcastle, for example. We do it all the time, for other conditions.’
Both Professor Sikora and Professor Heneghan claimed the health service is put under pressure every winter from other seasonal illnesses – due to having the lowest bed capacity per population in Europe – yet it manages to come out the other side without the need for the UK to adopt crude interventions.
Another senior NHS intensive care doctor made similar comments to MailOnline but claimed they were silenced by health bosses, who threatened them with disciplinary action if they contradicted the hospital data used to justify the lockdown.
One told this website: ‘It is my personal view a lockdown was not needed right now, the data they’ve used has been conveniently sampled. The official rationale from the Government will be to ensure people are safe and lives are saved but I think the real reason is they do not want to receive the same criticism they did the first time round.
The first lockdown, while successful in protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed with Covid-19, has had a catastrophic effect on healthcare across the board. There were 27million fewer GP appointments than normal during the shut down, raising fears it led to the worsening of other conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
Tens of thousands less people than average went for cancer checks during that time and there were hundreds more deaths from heart attacks. Nearly a million people have lost their jobs since March and, when the furlough scheme ends next year, this is expected to rise again.
Critical care admissions have been a far cry from the levels seen during the first peak in spring (shown in this graph by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Unit), casting more doubt about the need for second lockdown
Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan (left) and renowned oncologist Professor Karol Sikora claimed wards are no busier than they normally are at this time of year and that a large chunk of the people being treated for Covid-19 were either already in hospital when they caught the virus or would’ve been admitted for other reasons
It comes after a leaked document showed hospital bed occupancy this year dropped to its lowest percentage for a decade when medics had to turf out thousands of inpatients to make room for a predicted surge in people with Covid-19. Now that normal care has resumed, a leaked report suggests there are still fewer than average numbers of beds in use
Even during the peak of the first wave of coronavirus in the UK, Covid-19 patients never accounted for more than 30 per cent of all hospital patients and tens of thousands of vacated beds went unused during the spring
Professor Heneghan added: ‘The perpetual opening up and closing down approach is incoherent and comes to a point where you create more harm than benefit, running long term damage to nation’s health.
‘We had since May to prepare for this winter, it was clear then this would be a seasonal pathogen. We’ve got capacity in private hospitals and the Nightingales [which were built during the first wave but went unused].’
Referring to doctors reportedly being censored by NHS bosses for speaking out against the lockdown, he said: ‘What I’m concerned about is lack of transparency that allows people to come forward in the NHS to provide much needed comment on what is going on, it’s unacceptable. I am an NHS employee myself.
ICU UNITS ARE NO BUSIER THAN USUAL, LEAKED DOCUMENTS SHOW
Leaked documents revealed intensive care units are no busier than normal for this time of year for most trusts, pouring extra cold water on claims the NHS is close to being overrun.
Eighteen per cent of critical care beds available across the health service nationally, which is normal for the autumn.
Data from the NHS Secondary Uses Services, seen by The Telegraph, claims to show that even in the worst hit region, the North West, seven per cent of critical care beds are still free.
The figures show there is still 15 per cent ‘spare capacity’ across the country – fairly normal for this time of year.
That’s even without the thousands of Nightingale hospital beds which will provide extra capacity if needed.
Even in the North-West, the worst affected region in the ‘second wave’, only 92.9 per cent of critical care beds are currently occupied.
And in the peak of the Covid outbreak in April, critical care beds were never more than 80 per cent full, according to the data.
There were around 5,900 critical care – or ICU – beds in the NHS in January 2020, according to the King’s Fund.
It is not clear how many Covid-19 patients are on critical care wards as this data is not available. But the number of patients on a ventilator – 952 on November 3 – gives a rough idea. However, not all patients on ventilators are classed as being in ICU.
‘Functioning democracies require people to come forward and speak the truth, and we are being denied that. If we don’t have that we don’t have a functioning democracy.’
Every winter the health service is put under pressure because people tend to get sicker from a slew of other illnesses and need care as the country moves deeper into the colder months.
Professor Sikora predicts ‘at least half’ of the 11,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital right now would be there anyway, for other conditions – though there is no data to stack up his claims.
He told MailOnline: ‘A lot of patients have Covid but they’re in hospital because they were ill before [getting the virus]. People with comorbidites always come at winter, ever since I’ve been a medical student.
‘Remember these people might have chest and heart and other underlying conditions, a positive PCR result doesn’t mean they were hospitalised for Covid.
‘I’ve been a doctor for decades, this is no different to a normal year. We sometimes have had to close surgeries down to make room for more patients during winter pressures, way before Covid.’
The Government has honed in on the small handful of hospitals in hotspot areas that are under strain after bearing the brunt of a surge in infections in September and October and pointed to them as evidence the NHS could be overrun.
But Professor Sikora said the Government should’ve held its nerve and given the three-tiered lockdown system – which was only introduced on October 14 in Liverpool – time to have an effect. Boris Johnson admitted yesterday his localised approach was driving down cases and the R rate in hotspots.
He suggested the Government’s scientific advisers were nervous about coming under the same scrutiny heaped their way during the first wave.
Professor Sikora added: ‘Yes there was a steep rise in infections from September to October but the numbers have plateaued.
‘Clearly what happened was government lost the plot and caved because it thought it was going to be overrun due to the propaganda presented by SAGE.
NIGHTINGALES ARE NOT THE SOLUTION TO EASING BURDEN ON NHS, EXPERTS SAY
Nightingale hospitals are not the solution to easing the burden on the NHS’s intensive care units, medical experts have warned.
Two senior intensive care specialists said opening field hospitals to help the health service during the second peak of coronavirus risks poaching staff from already over-burdened hospitals.
Speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Thursday, Dr Gary Masterson, a consultant at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, said Nightingale hospitals had been a good idea in principle, but added: ‘I think perhaps the thinking was done before we had any understanding of this disease process.’
He said they were likely to be of little value because it is already hard to find the numbers of multi-disciplinary staff needed for regular hospitals.
‘There was an impression that if you stick a ventilator by a bed you get an intensive care bed space – that’s simply not true,’ Dr Masterson said.
‘Once you ventilate a patient these patients are often very, very sick and require advanced therapies.
‘We are struggling to staff our normal NHS hospitals with self-isolation, with staff sickness and so forth – how are we going to staff Nightingale hospitals? I really don’t understand that.’
Many hospitals across the country have reported pressure on intensive care creeping up as the second wave of the pandemic gathers pace.
Last Friday, a leaked report revealed trusts in Manchester could exceed their intensive care capacity in days.
Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said the use of the newly opened NHS Nightingale North West was one of the strands of its strategy for coping with the problem.
Dr Peter Shirley, a consultant at the Royal London Hospital, said progressing patients through care in a Nightingale hospital is difficult.
Two unused floors of at the top of the Royal London Hospital have been converted into a Nightingale hospital.
Dr Shirley said: ‘The Royal London Hospital and has now got an enormous capacity for critical care – what hasn’t been identified is the safe staffing to go along with that.’
He added that having hundreds of patients in an open area without the space to discharge them into wards is ‘logistically virtually impossible’.
‘So while the concept as a sort of rescue therapy seems quite good on paper, the overall package is very difficult to comprehend,’ he said.
‘At the moment we are trying to limit that area into discrete pods of 15 patients and saying this is what you will need to manage each pod.
‘At some point within the building we run out of the multi-disciplinary team to run the pods so the other pods remain empty.’
The Government scrambled to find extra capacity at the start of the pandemic as images of Italy and Spain’s overwhelmed hospitals emerged.
Ultimately, the NHS mostly managed to keep patient numbers under control and many Nightingale hospitals were mothballed due to lack of demand.
It is feared they might be needed in the second wave as hospitals cope with seasonal illnesses such as flu, and do their best to offer normal levels of routine and outpatient services.
It emerged this week that some of the centres have been earmarked for use in the NHS’s plans for a rapid vaccination programme as soon as one is approved.
‘Gloomsters always win because they can’t go wrong with a lockdown. If you’re like me and predict an optimistic outcome which then doesn’t come true, you get fired.
‘It’s puzzling, if the prediction is we’re going to be overwhelmed, then a lockdown is justified. But it can’t be true, we’re already in November and it’s not even close.’
Professor Heneghan added: ‘If you look in areas like Liverpool, the tiered restrictions caused a reduction in cases across all age groups. The people of Liverpool understood what the issues were and modified their behaviour.
‘So I would be rewarding people of Liverpool with approach that says here’s some light at end of tunnel, rather than a lockdown.’
SAGE – the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – warned the Government the NHS was on track to be completely overwhelmed by the end of this month. The dire forecast was made using mathematical models that were a month out of date and high low confidence intervals.
The prediction has since been challenged by top scientists and doctors who say the modelling did not anticipate how effective the three-tier lockdown system would be.
Professor Heneghan said: ‘The modelling was completely inaccurate. But once the PM is presented such a gloomy scenario, it becomes impossible to go with any other situation than lockdown.
‘It’s impossible to make decisions if you’ve got models that are a month out of date. We get words of ‘assumptions, scenarios, projections’ – but scientists cant predict more than six weeks ahead with any accuracy.’
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, claimed the move to level four was in response to the ‘serious situation ahead’.
A move to level four means health bosses believe there is a real threat that an expected influx of Covid-19 patients could start to force the closure of other vital services across the nation.
Yet leaked documents on Wednesday revealed intensive care units were no busier than normal for this time of year for most trusts, pouring extra cold water on claims the NHS is close to being overrun.
Eighteen per cent of critical care beds available across the health service nationally, which is normal for the autumn. Data from the NHS Secondary Uses Services, seen by The Telegraph, claims to show that even in the worst hit region, the North West, seven per cent of critical care beds are still free.
The figures show there is still 15 per cent ‘spare capacity’ across the country – fairly normal for this time of year. That’s even without the thousands of Nightingale hospital beds which will provide extra capacity if needed.
Even in the North-West, the worst affected region in the ‘second wave’, only 92.9 per cent of critical care beds are currently occupied. And in the peak of the Covid outbreak in April, critical care beds were never more than 80 per cent full, according to the data.
There were around 5,900 critical care – or ICU – beds in the NHS in January 2020, according to the King’s Fund. It is not clear how many Covid patients are on critical care wards because this data is not available. But the number of patients on a ventilator – 952 on November 3 – gives a rough idea. However, not all patients on ventilators are classed as being in ICU.
There are just under 10,300 patients with Covid-19 on general and acute wards in NHS hospitals in England at the moment, official data shows. This means Covid-19 patients account for around 10 per cent of all available beds.
However, there are still more than 13,000 beds available on general wards, considering there are almost 114,000 NHS beds in England overall. Professor Sikora estimates there are about 140,000 beds overall once the Nightingale hospitals and extra capacity in the private sector which the NHS has bought in case it does get pushed to the brink.
MailOnline revealed at the height of the first wave in April that Covid-19 patients never made up more than 30 per cent of the total beds occupied. Just under 19,000 patients out of 70,000 in hospitals at that time had Covid-19.
Commenting on the data, Professor Heneghan told MailOnline ‘This is completely in line with what is normally available at this time of year. What I don’t understand is that I seem to be looking at a different data-set to what the Government is presenting.
‘Everything is looking at normal levels and free bed capacity is still significant, even in high dependency units and intensive care, even though we have a very small number across the board. We are starting to see a drop in people in hospitals.
‘Tier Three restrictions are working phenomenally well and, rather than locking down, I would be using this moment to increase capacity.’
But Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said there is ‘no point’ using national bed occupancy rates to argue that lockdown isn’t needed.
He tweeted : ‘Many hospital CEOs in the north tell us they are under extreme pressure. Many of them say their Covid-19 patient numbers are above what they saw in the peak of the first phase.
‘The argument from NHS CEOs in rest of country is many are already seeing high worrying levels of general bed occupancy. And if the Covid pattern in the north is repeated elsewhere in the country a month later, it’ll coincide with winter when NHS is at its most stretched.
‘This means trusts won’t be able to give the treatment and quality of care they would want, to all who need it. None of this is reflected in, or affected by, current national ICU bed occupancy rates. They are irrelevant as far as this risk is concerned.’
Moment whistleblower NHS worker publicly resigns claiming she had ‘no work for three weeks’ at the height of the pandemic and alleges her hospital now count flu and Covid cases as ‘the same thing’
A whistleblower NHS worker who publicly resigned after claiming she had ‘no work for three weeks’ at the height of the pandemic has said the claim the NHS is overrun is ‘all lies.’
A viral Facebook video shows Shelley Tasker, 43 – a healthcare assistant at Treliske hospital, which is part of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust – telling members of the public what is ‘really going on’ behind closed doors in NHS hospitals.
In the clip filmed outside Truro cathedral with a crowd gathering, Shelley, who is a mother and part-time photographer from Camborne, Cornwall, takes to a microphone and says: ‘As much as I’ve always loved our NHS, it’s no longer our NHS. It’s run by the corrupt government and the people running this company.
‘We no longer have health care, we can’t see dentists. I can tell you now when I was working at the height of the pandemic I had no work for three weeks because there were no patients. We have a particular Covid ward. None of the wards were overflowing with Covid patients and they’re not now.’
She went on to claim that the flu and Covid cases are now recorded as ‘the same thing’ on death certificates.
In response to cheers from the crowd, she continues: ‘I can tell you on Friday in Treliske there were three people in with Covid. No extra deaths, three – and that covers Treliske, West Cornwall and Hayle hospital.
‘The total deaths from these three hospitals in seven months, is 76 people – that’s about ten people a month over the last seven months, and we have locked down.
NHS figures show that 67 people died from Covid-19 at Treliske hospital between March and September.
Speaking exclusively to FEMAIL about the figures the government are presenting to the public, Shelley claimed: ‘It’s all lies. We’ve closed all of Cornwall down for three people in hospital.
‘They haven’t even died – they’ve supposedly got COVID. How many people are going to die because of this? There’s a massive agenda going on here and people need to start realising.’
Speaking about her decision to address the topic publicly, Shelley, whose main aim was encourage ‘other people would come forward,’ explained: ‘It’s been a long time coming. I’ve kept quiet and people needed to see those figures.
‘I think lots of people are now questioning things. That’s got to be good because the world can’t carry on as it is.’
She went on to say she will ‘absolutely’ not be adhering to the rules of second lockdown.
‘I will be doing everything I want to do. If I want to see my friends…To be honest with you, we won’t be going to pubs or anything like that, nothing will change for me,’ she said. ‘I don’t have massive gatherings and stuff like that.
‘There will be protests and we’ve got to carry on protesting. I will walk my dog and go to the beach and things like that. I don’t think there’a restriction on exercise and stuff. I haven’t looked too much into it to be honest with you.’
‘No way it’s going to happen for me, and it’s not going to be happening for loads of people. People haven’t got time to be reporting if there’s seven people in the house – the police aren’t going to come out for that.
‘There’s nothing that really needs to change for me. I’m just advising everybody to carry on as normal as they can’t do anything.’
Ms Tasker claimed there were just three patients in the Royal Cornwall Hospital, formerly and still commonly known as the Treliske Hospital, last Friday.
And official data seems to back up her point – there were just four people with the virus receiving care at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust on October 29.
For comparison, the trust – which also includes West Cornwall Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital – was treating 32 Covid-19 patients at once at the height of the pandemic. But even then, it was nowhere close to being over-run by the infected.
However, Cornwall has yet to be hit by the second wave of the pandemic, with northern areas and the Midlands bearing the brunt this time around.
The fact hospitals have been filling up in hotspots has been used to justify the second national lockdown, with gloomy health bosses warning the NHS could run out of beds nationally in weeks.
But many parts of the NHS, particularly in the south, still lie empty because so many people are still hesitant to use its services for fear of catching Covid-19 or being a burden on the health service.
Some fear this could change in an instant, however, if infections continue to rise because southern hospitals have much less capacity.