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London hospital ‘forced to return patients to ambulances due to lack of beds’

Megan Baynes, PA
·3-min read

A hospital in London is having to return patients to waiting ambulances after procedures due to an “overwhelming” number of coronavirus patients, a frontline doctor has said.

The doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency that “significant patient harm” was occurring as a result of a lack of available beds, with A&E staff forced to treat other patients in the vehicles outside.

“It’s not the fault of the staff, but the sheer numbers are so unprecedented and being full like this means that you just have to do your best to adapt. But it’s not the standard (of care) I signed up to,” he said.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

“It’s extremely stressful for us to be doing our best but knowing that significant patient harm is happening because there isn’t space and the patient load is too high.”

Staff are “running” into ambulances to treat patients, he said, until space becomes available in A&E, but this limited much of the care they could provide.

He said: “Last week, I saw a patient in the back of an ambulance who had very low oxygen levels, and it became very clear he had heart failure, liquid was building up in their lungs and they were essentially drowning.

“So I had to walk them out of the ambulance, to an X-ray machine, they had their X-ray in the hospital and because there was no space we had to stretcher them back to the ambulance, even though they were in heart failure.”

Paramedics unload a patient from an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital
Paramedics unload a patient from an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

With families unable to be in hospital, he is now making two or three phone calls per shift to discuss end of life care with relatives.

He worked a shift finishing at 8pm on New Year’s Eve and said he felt “sick” to his stomach seeing party-goers on the Tube home.

He said: “On the Tube, there were lots of people wearing glittery outfits. I felt so upset because I know they are not wearing those outfits to go shopping, they are going to a party.

“I felt so upset because I’ve been fighting all day and it didn’t seem to matter to them. They were going to pretend it wasn’t happening.”

Staff shortages have hit hospitals hard, but the London doctor said this was not always due to Covid, with some staff being signed off sick with PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Paramedics and hospital staff attend to a patient outside the Royal London Hospital
Paramedics and hospital staff attend to a patient outside the Royal London Hospital (Yui Mok/PA)

He said: “I know ICU nurses who can’t go to work because they can’t sleep.”

However, amid the “overwhelming” patient numbers, he said staff desperately try to make sure loved ones get time with their relatives before they die.

“There was an elderly man I knew was going to pass away from Covid, and I contacted his daughter — she wasn’t aware he had even been brought to hospital,” he said.

“She asked if she could bring in a little glass of whiskey and have it with him, and I said that was a good idea.

“I don’t know why it hit me so hard, but she came in, and they had a whiskey together and by the time she’d come out, he passed away.

“Somehow amidst all the horrible things going on, we somehow made sure she had that moment which was very important.”