The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital is to open emergency Covid beds for adults in a sign of the unprecedented pressure facing Greater Manchester’s hospitals.
Sir Richard Leese, the region’s health chief, said the situation in the system was now ‘critical’ as NHS bosses have scrambled to discharge as many people as possible ahead of a sustained peak over the coming three weeks.
Crisis meetings have been held to determine the ability to scale up beds, as Salford Royal and Wigan’s hospital trust have both seen intensive care close to full in recent days.
As part of so-called ‘super surge’ plans, four extra high dependency beds will be opened at RMCH from Monday, following a similar plan adopted by Alder Hey in Liverpool.
NHS chiefs have stressed this will not mean the closure of any paediatric beds, but that some space in the hospital will be adapted to provide extra adult care.
However insiders stressed that Greater Manchester’s hospitals operate as one system and are sharing patients according to daily pressures, meaning that the critically ill can be cared for safely.
Nevertheless one senior figure said that ‘to all intents and purposes’, mutual aid has ended between different regions ‘unless it’s absolutely necessary’.
“There isn’t the spare capacity,” they said.
Another described the situation as ‘scary’ but ‘just about coping’.
In the past couple of weeks the system has been ramping up efforts to reduce unnecessary admissions and discharge people who are not thought to need a hospital bed, in particular those on ‘pathway zero’ - NHS jargon for patients who are medically fit and do not require social care arranging.
But internal modelling is predicting a major surge in pressure from this weekend, one that will last for about three weeks.
It is understood there were around 170 Covid patients in intensive care here yesterday, more than double the numbers a month ago.
Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said the system was facing an unprecedented strain in the coming days.
“The situation in the NHS here is critical today,” he said.
“We are heading into the most difficult few weeks we’ve ever seen.
“As we have been predicting, given the pattern of infection in our communities, the number of people needing hospital treatment for Covid is continuing to rise.”
Sir Richard said the system expected and hoped the peak in admissions to hit next week, but stressed ‘that peak and the weeks after it are going to be incredibly difficult’.
“We are working round the clock to try and ensure we can handle this,” he added.
“This includes all parts of the NHS in Greater Manchester and incredible efforts from patients, families, social care staff and our voluntary sector to make sure everyone who is fit enough to go home, or be cared for effectively outside hospital, does so, meaning we have beds ready for Covid patients who may need them.
“We have also continued to increase the number of critical care beds available for adults across Greater Manchester as part of our surge planning.
"This has included converting a small area of Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital into a four bed adult critical care unit.
"This has not affected the number of critical care beds available for children and young people.
“We are working with the ambulance service to ensure people who do not need to come to hospital are looked after elsewhere. And we are asking people to use our new 111 First service rather than come to A&E, to allow us to help them book an appointment at A&E or elsewhere. Though of course if you need the NHS in a life threatening emergency the advice remains to call 999.”
The NHS has also introduced a new booking system for urgent care, which can be accessed by calling 111.
That includes the ability to book urgent appointments at A&E, but people are still advised to call 999 for life-threatening illnesses or injuries.