More than half of all major hospital trusts in England currently have more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave, new analysis shows.
Some trusts are having to care for double the number of patients this time around amid fears the rapid spread of the virus will overwhelm the NHS.
Trusts that haven’t yet matched the peak of the April wave could pass it within days as numbers have been rising quickly across the country.
Hospital admissions in England hit a record high for the fifth day in a row on Friday, with another 3,967 patients brought in.
London mayor’s Sadiq Khan has declared a ‘major incident’ as hospitals in the capital are on the verge of running out of beds.
The latest data has been analysed by the PA news agency who found that of 139 acute hospital trusts who reported figures for January 5, 84 – or 60% – had more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave in spring 2020.
Barts in London reported 830 Covid-19 patients on January 5 compared with 606 in April and Portsmouth Hospitals University is now caring for 457 patients compared with a first-wave peak of 244.
The East Suffolk & North Essex Trust had some of the most stark figures. Doctors are caring for 367 confirmed Covid-19 patients as of 8am on January 5, compared with a first-wave peak of 143.
The chief executive of the trust has said the hospitals in Ipswich and Colchester are ‘full’, while the NHS faces a ‘very, very serious situation’.
Nick Hulme told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The real picture is certainly for the two hospitals I’m responsible for – Ipswich and Colchester – is that we’re full.
‘The problem with looking at capacity data or occupancy data is it doesn’t tell a true picture – an empty bed is not necessarily an available bed because we do have to keep some beds empty for infection control reasons.’
He said there had been a lot of ‘very damaging’ misinformation ‘peddled by some individuals on social media and elsewhere’ which he described as ‘really disheartening’.
Mr Hulme added: ‘The picture is that this is a very, very serious situation for the NHS, the worst I’ve seen in my career by a long stretch, and we need to be honest about that.’
Mr Khan said the situation in London is ‘now critical’ with the spread of the virus ‘out of control’.
He said: ‘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 stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically.
‘We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die.’
A majority of acute trusts in London – 14 out of 23 – are currently recording patient levels higher than at the peak of the first wave.
In northern England most trusts are still below their first-wave peak, however. Some trusts in northern areas saw numbers hit a record high in the autumn then fall back before Christmas, only to start rising again more recently.
An example is Liverpool University Hospitals Trust, which saw a peak of 475 patients on October 30, followed by a drop to 112 by December 13, but where the number now stands at 248.
Acute trusts manage all the major hospitals in England with A&E departments, inpatient and outpatient surgery, and specialist medical care.
The total number of Covid-19 patients in all hospitals in England – including mental health and community trusts – currently stands at 28,246. This is 49% above the first wave peak of 18,974 on April 12.
All figures are based on the latest available data from NHS England.