As ‘freedom day’ approaches on July 19 when most, if not all, lockdown restrictions are expected to be scrapped – doctors working in the city fear the timing could not be worse.
Over the past two weeks, infections have surged in the north west. In Liverpool, positive cases have now risen above 500 in every 100,000 of the population.
The good news had been that despite the climbing numbers of positive cases across the UK fuelled by the Delta variant, hospital admissions remain comparatively low compared to other waves of the virus.
However, several doctors working in Intensive Care Units (ICU) in Liverpool’s hospitals say they have seen worrying signs that wards are beginning to feel a strain not usually associated with the summer months.
One consultant working in ICU in Liverpool hospitals tweeted on Monday: “So today’s ICU outreach shift felt like a proper, old school, peaking #COVID shift. Lots of patients referred, ICU beds gradually filling up. Really sad to see #Liverpool now in its fourth wave. Please do go and get a #vaccine if you’ve not already had the chance.”
Dr Richard Wenstone, a consultant intensivist working in ICU at the Royal Liverpool Hospital also took to Twitter last weekend to raise his concerns, posting: “Saw many new Covid admissions to ICU this week. A lot of ICU beds occupied by patients with Covid. This is our 4th ‘wave’ in Liverpool and community levels are very high.”
The term ‘fourth wave’ when talking about Covid in the city is something Dr Wenstone says he and many of his colleagues believe is the reality according to the increasing numbers of positive cases in the city.
Dr Wenstone said: “We’ve seen this three times in the north west. I know people in parts of the country speak about the third wave starting but for us this is the fourth wave.
“I’m not sure that anybody has used the term fourth wave officially, but if you go back and look at the data nationally for hospital admissions and you look at the north west you’ll see the original peak back when it first started, then we had another peak in September last year, and then we had a peak again in the winter so that’s three. And we’re now seeing another peak so for us that’s four.
“I think in different parts of the country, what we saw last September wasn’t really reflected everywhere so it depends on your perspective.
“But If you speak to others [medical professionals] in the north west, and I don’t just mean Merseyside but Greater Manchester as well, I think most people will say from our point of view this is a fourth wave, or fourth surge, it’s not the third.”
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Dr Wenstone said that while May was quiet and vaccines have had an impact in patients becoming seriously ill with Covid, they have not completely “broken the link” between positive cases and those needing a hospital bed.
Dr Wentstone added: “The number of admissions has started to go up quite sharply in the last fortnight.
“I know that A&E has been busy. Now I don’t know if that’s because of Covid but they are busier than you would expect them to be in the summer.
“That puts pressure on the hospital. Clearly, if we start filling up our critical care beds with Covid patients then those beds are not available for other patients.
“And we wouldn’t normally expect to see problems in the middle of summer with bed capacity, it’s routine virtually in the winter, and this makes us all a bit fearful.
“I’ve noticed the community levels of positive tests are quite high in Liverpool and in the past when the levels are high a couple of weeks later the hospitals start to get busy.
“The vaccine has made a massive impact, there’s no doubt about that, but it hasn’t broken the link between community rates and hospital rates.
“We’re seeing quite a few beds being occupied by patients with Covid needing intensive care. So that includes the ICU, the high dependency unit and it also includes a proportion of the respiratory ward beds as well.
“But while we are getting busier with Covid now the Government seems determined to reduce the lockdown, or getting rid of it altogether.
“I think myself and a lot of my colleagues are fearful about what might happen.”
With an increase in Covid patients taking beds in ICU wards in Liverpool hospitals, the consultant’s views on the scrapping of the remaining lockdown restrictions are clear.
Dr Wenstone said: “On the basis of what I’m seeing I would say it’s the wrong thing to do.
” Unless there’s a dramatic change between now and July 19, I seriously think they should have another think about this and not do it.
“The vaccine is making a difference but the vaccination rate is not high enough in quite a few parts of the population.”
Despite expectations the last of the restrictions will end on July 19, Dr Wenstone believes people still need to take precautions to stop a repeat of past waves which saw hospital beds fill up alongside climbing positive cases.
The consultant added: “Without any doubt whatsoever, anybody who can be vaccinated should be and have both jabs.
“If people have got doubts or have a particular issue they should speak to their GP but people who are not vaccinated are the ones predominately getting Covid now by far.
“We are seeing Covid in 30-year-olds, occasionally 20-year-olds as well who have been very unwell with it.
“If all the lockdown rules are lifted there will be some people, I guess, who will take no precautions at all.
“But I think it would still be very sensible to avoid crowded places, wear a mask in crowded places, wash your hands – all the stuff the public has been doing.
“I think part of the message is to continue to take precautions even if you are no longer legally required to.”
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