Heart attack patients calling 999 in parts of northern England are being asked to get a lift instead of waiting for an ambulance as hospitals in the region experience more than double the growth rate in numbers of Covid patients compared with London.
Four more NHS trusts in England – all outside London – declared “critical incidents” on Tuesday amid soaring staff absences, rising numbers of Covid patients and growing pressure on emergency services.
Covid infections in England’s regions
There is cautious optimism that cases and hospitalisations in the capital – which was the centre of the Omicron variant outbreak – are beginning to level off. However, hospitals at the other end of the country are experiencing the fastest growth in Covid occupancy, according to an analysis of official NHS data by the Guardian.
The highest rate of growth in England is in the north-east and Yorkshire, where the number of Covid patients in hospitals has more than doubled – up 122% – in one week. There were 1,975 Covid patients in hospitals on Monday, compared with fewer than half that – 889 – the week before.
NHS pressures in the north-east have become so intense that ambulance workers in the area have begun asking patients with suspected heart attacks and strokes to get a lift to hospital with family or friends instead of waiting for an ambulance, amid high staff absences and an “unprecedented” surge in demand, it emerged on Tuesday.
An internal note at North East ambulance service NHS foundation trust said that where there was likely to be a risk from the delay in an ambulance reaching a patient, call handlers should “consider asking the patient to be transported by friends or family”, the Health Service Journal reported.
The second-fastest growth rate in hospital Covid occupancy is in the north-west, which recorded a rise of 94% in the last seven days. It means all parts of northern England have more than double the growth rate experienced in London, which was 46% between 27 December and 3 January.
The number of Covid patients in hospitals in the Midlands has risen 74% in the last seven days, with Covid occupancy up 58% in the south-east, 55% in the east and 43% in the south-west.