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Junior doctor warns London hospital ‘may need to start rationing oxygen’

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A junior doctor has warned that his London hospital is now “aggressively overstretched” by Covid-19 patients, and they could be forced to ration oxygen if the situation worsens.

And the doctor, who works in general medicine and wished to remain anonymous, said he would be “ery shocked” if the situation didn’t get worse.

He said if the volume of Covid patients continues to increase, his hospital will need to start rationing oxygen for patients.

Total coronavirus cases hit a new record on Tuesday, rising above 50,000 cases for the first time, to 53,135 lab-confirmed cases.

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“We’re just aggressively overstretched… Shifts which previously would have been manageable are distinctly not,” the junior doctor told PA.

“There’s just been a huge expansion in the number of Covid in-patients, the number of patients we’re admitting and the baseline sickness of the patients.

“We are close to or have exceeded maximum capacity already in terms of 100% ideal care… if it goes beyond that then things would be bad.

He said he and fellow staff are suffering from exhaustion and many patients are being handed over to doctors on the next shift because staff “can’t get through them quickly enough”.

He knows colleagues at another London hospital who have had to lead treatment for multiple cardiac arrests from emergency vehicles because they could not fit them in A&E.

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He said “a few” patients at his hospital have had their treatment started in ambulances.

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“We haven’t had people being treated in corridors yet, but that partly reflects a fairly rapid rate of death… that clears out bed space, unfortunately,” he said.

The doctor said he sees a couple of patients die per shift and he is currently routinely working 70 hour weeks.

“I was barely able to eat on the nights over Christmas,” he added.

He said increased funding is needed for his hospital and others to rapidly raise staffing levels.

“That would make a huge difference… we may not have enough oxygen, enough machinery, but at least if you have enough nurses, enough doctors we can do as much as we can,” he said.

On Sunday, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), part of the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, declared an “internal incident” which it said was taken “as a precautionary step due to the high number of Covid-positive patients” at the hospital.

The trust said all patients received the treatment they needed, including intensive care treatment for Covid-19 and oxygen therapy as required, and added that it is “continuing to monitor the situation to ensure that this remains the case”.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the virus outbreak this year has “really highlighted what happens when you go into a pandemic with tens and thousands of nurses short”.

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She told BBC Breakfast: “We know that critical care bed occupancy is high and in some parts of the country we know that we don’t have enough staff to deliver the care, and actually we can’t even expand the bed occupancy because we can’t have enough staff to deliver care, even if we could expand it.”

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