Health workers in the UK, one of Europe’s worst-affected countries, have raised warnings that the country’s health service may not be able to cope as a new coronavirus variant gathers pace.
With critical care running at more than 100 per cent of capacity across south-east England, patients in need of intensive care face being transferred from London to hospitals as far away as Yorkshire.
But the demand on the healthcare system goes beyond bed shortages and overworked doctors and nurses: paramedics are also feeling the strain.
London’s ambulance service received as many emergency calls the day after Christmas as it did at the height of the first wave of COVID-19.
“We are not invulnerable ourselves,” said Martin Berry, a paramedic who also works at the College of Paramedics, a training school.
He told Good Morning Europe the number of medical staff having to remain at home for coronavirus-related reasons was “having a massive impact on the number of people who are there to respond to patients in need”.
The UK was the first country to identify a new, rapidly-spreading variant of COVID-19, prompting many other countries to introduce travel restrictions on Britons.
Cases have since been confirmed not just in other European countries, but further afield in Canada and Japan.
Rapid spread of variant
Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said on Wednesday that the new variant was spreading rapidly to other areas of the UK.
He added that the share of people testing positive for it was “increasing at a very substantial rate”.
Britain’s Office for National Statistics estimates as many as two-thirds of people testing positive for COVID-19 could have the new variant.
It has prompted calls in the UK to reopen the so-called “Nightingale” hospitals — facilities that can accept an overflow of coronavirus patients when ordinary hospitals are overwhelmed.
But Berry said reopening Nightingale hospitals risked deepening the shortage of trained people in the health service.
“Part of the problem [is] that we can put more beds in, we can put more monitors, we can put more pieces of equipment involved the care of patients, but the real demand is on the people who are trained to actually use this equipment and care for patients,” he said.
“It doesn't matter how large your hospital is or how much of an overflow system you have, if you haven't got the people who are there to provide that care, it becomes a little bit redundant and meaningless and we're struggling to staff the system we already have, let alone additional services.”