United Kingdom

NHS hospitals in London are told to prepare for a 'possible surge' in Covid patients later this year

London's hospitals have been told to prepare for another surge in coronavirus patients 'later this year', it has been suggested, as stunning data reveals how the virus has retreated across the capital. 

Leaked guidance handed to NHS trusts in the city last month warned they will be asked to 'begin to plan for a possible wave three Covid surge' as soon as late March, according to the Health Services Journal.

The presentation, from NHS England and NHS Improvement, adds: 'The purpose of the critical care de-surge plan (is to) ensure that the... bed base can expand safely in the event of a third Covid surge and/or other major incident/event.'

It is not impossible for Covid cases to spiral over the summer months, as South Africa - which is in the southern hemisphere and has its hottest months while the UK is in winter - has just faced an explosion of infections.

But ministers hope the rollout of the vaccine will stop a further surge in hospitalisations, which would pile added pressure on hospitals. There are concerns a variant might dodge jab-induced immunity, but experts say studies suggesting this do not take into account other parts of the immune system which offer added protection.

It comes as official data revealed how the virus is ebbing away in London as infections nosedived in every borough in the two weeks to February 25, the latest available

As many as 10 local councils in the city had an infection rate below 50 cases per 100,000 residents, putting them among the least Covid hit areas in the country. They were Lewisham, Westminster, Southwark, Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, Islington, Kingston upon Thames, Bromley, Enfield and Lambeth.

Boris Johnson has set out a roadmap to get the country out of lockdown, with the first stage seeing schools reopen to all pupils on March 8. The Prime Minister has said the earliest all restrictions on daily life will go is June 21, and has not ruled out pushing back his timetable for easing restrictions should hospitalisations rise again. 

The leaked presentation handed to the capital's integrated care systems - which includes hospitals, local councils and voluntary organisations supporting the healthservice - said they must start preparing for a third wave.

It also said trusts must set out 'goals' for giving doctors and nurses 'immediate rest and respite', a 'desurge' in critical care after capacity was ramped up to handle spiralling admissions over January and dealing with the ever-growing backlog of patients waiting for routine operations including hip replacement and cataract surgery.

Many routine operations have been disrupted by the pandemic, with the number of patients waiting more than a year for surgery hitting its highest levels since April 2008 in December. There were almost 225,000 people waiting this long, according to NHS England figures. 

The number of Covid patients in the capital's hospitals has plunged by 44 per cent over the two weeks to February 26, the latest Department of Health data showed, after it fell from 3,939 to 2,223 patients on average.

This is more than 70 per cent below the peak of hospitalisations during the second wave, when there were 7,750 patients suffering from the virus in hospitals by January 16.

And in another promising sign the second wave is ebbing away in the city, almost a third of its boroughs are among the least infected areas in England.

Only 16 local authorities in the country have a rate below 50 cases per 100,000, and ten of these - or 63 per cent - are in the capital.

Only 16 local authorities in the nation have infection rates  

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