• Devon hospital could see 5,500 critical care patients in next three months
  • University Hospitals Plymouth Trust normally treats on average 425 critical care patients in this timeframe
  • Trust has significantly increased critical care bed capacity ahead of expected peak

Devon’s largest acute provider has been told to prepare for a 13-fold rise in critical care patients in the next three months under a worst case scenario, HSJ has learned.

Modelling carried out by the county’s public health team suggested University Hospitals Plymouth Trust could see up to 5,500 critical care patients during the expected peak of covid-19 between April and June.

The number represents a 13-fold increase on the average number of patients treated at UHP’s intensive care unit every quarter (425), according to the trust’s website.  

A spokesman for Devon Clinical Commissioning Group - commenting on behalf of the county’s Public Health team - said the figure was heavily caveated and “out of date”, but HSJ has been told it was used in planning discussions last week within the west Devon health system. 

A source familiar with the details told HSJ the figure represented the total number of Devon patients who may need critical care at Derriford Hospital during the peak of the pandemic. The number does not include potential patients from east and north Cornwall, for whom UHP is closer than Cornwall’s critical care site (Treliske Hospital in Truro).

It comes as the NHS overall is preparing for a large surge in critical care demand, for people who become seriously ill with covid-19. Many are seeking to expand critical care capacity, sometimes by several times — but rarely to 13-fold, which is unlikely to be possible.

HSJ understands UHP has nearly quadrupled its critical care bed capacity — up to 140 beds — ahead of the predicted surge of covid-19 patients, including 28 beds earmarked for non-covid-19 treatment.

However, the source said only a small portion of Derriford’s critical care beds are currently being used, although the hospital can open all its new beds at once, if necessary.

The South West has so far recorded the lowest number of covid-19 deaths (223 — five per cent of all deaths) in hospitals of all regions in England, but the region is also thought to have the fewest critical care beds in the country prior to the pandemic. As of 5pm on Sunday, 13 people had died with the virus at UHP.

The Public Health spokesman said the modelling in question was “just one small fragment” of national modelling of the outbreak and its likely impact, and “is now out of date”. 

He did not give details about an updated figure.

“The data… was based on an extrapolation of the reasonable worst case scenario within the national model at the time and came with multiple caveats,” he said. 

“National and local modelling is changing all the time to better reflect a growing understanding of the outbreak and the positive impact that social distancing measures have had.”

UHP had not responded to HSJ’s questions at the time of publication. 

On Friday, NHS chiefs announced a new temporary hospital will be established at the University of West England in Bristol to help take pressure off the region’s acute providers as the pandemic reaches its peak.