• Data shared with HSJ indicates ICU transfers could hit record this month
  • More than 30 transfers of critical covid patients a day in first half of January
  • Hospitals asked to open hundreds of beds to help hard-hit trusts

The number of critically ill covid-19 patients being transferred between hospitals under pressure from the third wave of the pandemic is on course to hit a record high in January, HSJ can reveal.

Data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, shared exclusively with HSJ, has recorded 444 transfers of critical covid patients in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for comparable or more specialist critical care in the first 14 days of January.

This is already the second highest number recorded during the pandemic. By comparison, 436 critical care transfers of this kind for covid patients were recorded in the whole of December.

Since the start of the pandemic, only April last year has had more ICU transfers of covid patients than the first two weeks of January 2021. Last April, there were 821 transfers of critically ill covid patients between hospitals for comparable or more specialist treatment – a rate of 27 per day.

But ICNARC’s data indicates an average of 31 transfers of critically ill covid patients took place each day in the first two weeks of January – suggesting that, if this rate keeps up, last April’s record number of transfers will be topped this month.

Intensive care covid patients being transferred for comparable or more specialist care in the first two weeks of January accounted for 9.79 per cent of the total admissions counted by ICNARC. This was the highest proportion of transfers since last May.

While many of these patients will have been transferred between hospitals in the same NHS region, a significant number are being moved further afield as critical care units in the South and East particularly find themselves well above their baseline or even their surge capacities. Usually, ICU patients are only very rarely transferred between different regions.

HSJ has previously reported that inter-region ICU patient transfers are happening across many systems. This includes patients from the South East, London and the Midlands being sent as far as Yorkshire, the North East and the South West.

NHS England has asked hospitals to open hundreds more intensive care beds so they can take in patients from hard-hit areas.

From 1 September to 15 January, the date of the latest ICNARC report, 1,396 inter-hospital transfers of 1,285 critical care covid patients have been recorded, of which 1,076 were transfers of 1,036 patients classified as being for comparable critical care.

Between September and December – the latest regional data available – the most transfers between critical care units in different hospitals were happening in London, Midlands, the North East and Yorkshire and the South East.