‘Covid is rampant’, warns University College Hospital chief

University College London Hospital in Camden. Photograph: Wikicommons

The head of a central London hospital has warned that “Covid is rampant and it is knocking teams out”.

University College Hospital has been affected as the number of cases start to rise again.

Chief executive David Probert said the level of infection in the community “is very, very high” and is bringing an increase in the number of hospitalisations, causing “great anxiety and worry” and staff absences.

He said the increase has posed a challenge for the emergency department.

The Euston Road hospital saw 37 12-hour trolley breaches in February because of waits for the “right kind of bed” or staff shortages.

He told the trust’s board meeting that in the last month infection rates meant “many times we have been down without wards, without bays and without nursing and medical and health professional staff”.

He added: “I can’t tell you how difficult it is to manage at the moment for our nursing and medical and allied health professionals on the ground, getting that call the night before. But as you will  see with your friends and family, Covid is rampant and it is knocking teams out.

“We are rescheduling and we are doing all we can but it has meant that our front door has on occasions been challenged.”

He said the hospital is “spreading our nursing staff to see continuity of care”.

It has also seen outbreaks of norovirus on the wards, affecting patients and staff, and flu, which has especially affected the emergency department.

The warning about the impact of Covid comes as the number of cases in Camden have risen, with 1,364 positve tests in the week to 13 March – up from 928 in the previous week.

According to the latest data, this jumped again to 1,824 people with Covid in the week ending 18 March.

The hospital is currently caring for 72 patients with the virus, with five seriously ill people on ventilators.

The rise in cases of covid has forced the hospital to put the brakes on changes to visiting. However, it is introducing a booking system.

Visiting is restricted in wards where patients have been self-isolating, including people who are having operations and people with Covid.

The hospital’s deputy chief nurse Vanessa Sweeney said she thought it was in a similar position to other hospitals in north central London.

“We are looking at how we can open up visiting more,” she said. “The increase in infection rates in the last couple of weeks slowed things down a little bit.”

There is a “flexible approach” if patients are dying, need extra support or are in hospital for a long time, and changes to visiting are under review regularly.

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