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Kent Covid patients transferred hundreds of miles to Bristol and Devon amid critical care bed shortage


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Seriously ill coronavirus patients are being transferred as far as 250 miles away for treatment due to a shortage of critical care beds in Kent.

Patients fighting the virus in Kent hospitals have been moved to sites as far away as Devon, Bristol and Leeds, as the county has reached its capacity for critical care patients.

Across Kent there are 1,012 patients in hospital. Picture: Michael Krinke Photography
Across Kent there are 1,012 patients in hospital. Picture: Michael Krinke Photography

Hospitals in Kent and Medway are treating more than twice the number of Covid-positive patients than during the first wave of the pandemic.

The Independent reports they have had no spare critical care beds for several days, while networks elsewhere in the country have been asked to keep such beds free in case patients must be transferred from the south.

A Kent clinician told the paper that yesterday, a critically ill patient in Medway was transferred more than 150 miles away to Bristol; the nearest available space. Another person from Kent was reportedly transferred to the Midlands.

Meanwhile on Monday, two patients at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford were also allegedly transferred about 250 miles to Plymouth in Devon, while other patients from the QEQM in Margate were taken to Southampton hospital, about 150 miles away.

On the same day, a member of staff at East Kent Hospitals Trust shared a photo on Twitter, telling how he and a crew from the Trust's critical care team had transferred a patient five hours away, to a hospital in Plymouth.

On Tuesday, two further Kent Covid patients were reportedly sent to Bristol, while another was taken to Oxford.

The worker added: “It’s really getting bad. Staff are on their knees, there is just not enough staff with critical care expertise.

"We have opened all our surge ICU beds and cancelled all surgery and we cannot open any more beds.”

Speaking to The Independent, a critical care consultant from the county described the situation as "about as serious as it gets".

“We have no choice but to evacuate the patients to other parts of the country," they said. "You don’t transfer a critically ill patient unless you really have to.”

Ambulances waiting outside Medway Hospital. Picture: Cameron Walker
Ambulances waiting outside Medway Hospital. Picture: Cameron Walker

Responding to news that some patients are being transferred out of the county, a spokesperson for NHS Kent and Medway said: “The rise in Covid cases is putting all of our services under immense pressure.

"Our hospitals are working together to manage demand; and a small number of critical care patients have been transferred to hospitals outside of Kent and Medway.

“The pressure will remain on the NHS until infection rates fall. We urge the public to play their part in stopping the spread of Covid-19 by staying at home as much as possible, social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands. If anyone needs urgent medical help, they should contact 111 first.”

The NHS in Kent and Medway is currently treating more than twice the number of Covid-positive patients in its hospitals than it did during the first wave of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, new figures show more people are dying with coronavirus in east Kent’s hospitals than anywhere else in England.

NHS statistics show there have been 125 Covid-19 deaths recorded at sites run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust in the last fortnight, with 40% of beds now occupied by a patient with the virus.

A long-awaited fall in infection rates across Canterbury, Thanet and Ashford - home to east Kent’s three main hospitals - will give hope that the tide could soon turn. But on Tuesday there were 415 patients with coronavirus across the trust’s sites - almost double the peak of the first wave on April 20, when there were 187.

Yesterday, Kent's three main emergency hospital trusts and the ambulance service appealed to the public to think twice before using them.

The warning shows the full impact doctors and nurses are facing, as a new wave of coronavirus patients, the emergence of a more transmissible strain of Covid-19, and high levels of staff sickness take their toll.

More people are dying of Covid in east Kent hospitals than anywhere else in the country Picture: Stock image
More people are dying of Covid in east Kent hospitals than anywhere else in the country Picture: Stock image

More critical care beds have been ordered as health bosses blitz the system to try to ensure vital cancer treatment and other urgent operations can continue. But they have warned some operations may be delayed as stretched staff are deployed to other areas.

Wilf Williams, the accountable officer for NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group which organises the area's healthcare, has described this as "the hardest period we've seen since the start of the pandemic".

"The NHS is always busy at this time of year but the latest wave of Covid is putting all of our services under immense pressure," he added.

On Monday, an image of ambulances queuing at Medway Hospital went viral.

The photo, posted to Twitter by student paramedic Cameron Walker, highlighted increasing pressures on the NHS trust following the surge in coronavirus cases.

It showed eight ambulances outside the hospital, but Mr Walker said about 20 crews were waiting to be dealt with, with some waiting up to six hours.

This morning, bosses at East Kent Hospitals Trust, which runs the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and QEQM in Margate, announced they have suspended home births for the time being to help ease the strain experienced by stretched ambulance crews.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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