• Critical Care Unit at Hampshire Hospitals Trust close to becomming overwhelmed, according to CEO 
  • Trust has still not hit its peak of covid patients
  • Patients at University Hospitals Dorset being tranferred 60 miles away to Nightingale in Exeter 

A hospital trust which recently accepted critical covid patients from neighbours may shortly have to send them elsewhere, its chief executive has said.

This comes as covid pressures continue to rise across parts of the South and South West, including in Dorset, where hospitals last week began transferring patients to the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter, to free up capacity. University Hospitals Dorset is transferring patients who require oxygen and non-invasive ventilation.

Chief executive of Hampshire Hospitals Foundation Trust Alex Whitfield told HSJ that the number of covid patients across the trust’s hospitals have almost tripled since Christmas Day – increasing from 86 to 250.

The trust was one of those still seeing rapid growth in the week to 25 January — of 5 per cent daily growth in the number of covid patients in adult general and acute beds, taking it to 31 per cent occupancy.

But Mrs Whitfield added that the pressures are most apparent in critical care – where there are currently 33 covid patients and a further six who are not covid positive. Before the pandemic the trust would usually expect between six and 10 critical care patients at a time during this time of year, she said.

The pressures have been rising rapidly since Christmas and while the increase in cases is slowing down the trust is still not “over the top”, she said.

Mrs Whitfield said: “Across our hospitals we have 39 patients across critical care and 33 are covid and only six are not, so that gives you a sense of scale of how many we would normally expect to have critical care – between about six and 10 – and we are at 39.”

She added that until two weeks ago the trust was accepting some critical care patients from neighbouring hospitals, including Winchester, as there was spare capacity.

However it had to stop accepting transfers and is reaching the point where patients may have to be sent to other trusts, such as University Hospital Southampton, as critical care is almost at capacity.

“Up until a couple of weeks ago we were taking patients from elsewhere, we had a bit of capacity so we were taking patients in from elsewhere into our critical care unit,” she said. “We haven’t done that for the last two weeks as our numbers have been going up and we are very close to the limit of how many patients we could care for in critical care.

“If we are full we [will] talk to neighbouring hospitals and see if they have got capacity — we haven’t had to do that yet but we are close.”

The trust started to postpone lower priority elective procedures from 31 December.

Meanwhile, University Hospitals Dorset has confirmed it is sending some patients to the Exeter Nightingale. A spokesman said: “We are treating a significant number of covid and non-covid patients and it is right that we use all available capacity to us so we can continue to provide the best possible care for our patients.” UHD has the highest covid occupancy in general and acute beds of the South West, at 34 per cent.

HSJ last week revealed that through the first weeks of January, around 30 critical care transfers were taking place every day, a record rate.