Cut contacts and lockdown like in March or NHS will face 'catastrophe', leading docs warn

THE NHS will face "catastrophe" if Brits don't cut contacts and lockdown like the first national coronavirus shut down in March, experts have warned.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week revealed that the NHS would be overwhelmed if coronavirus cases continued to surge.

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Data from the government's coronavirus dashboard states that as of January 4, there are 30,451 patients in hospital with Covid-19.

It also states that at present, there are 2,645 patients on ventilation.

Leading doctors have now warned that the public need to continue to follow social distancing measures and cut contacts – as the NHS is pushed to the brink of what it can deliver to patients.

Dr Jim Down, senior intensive care consultant at University College London Hospitals Trust (UCLH) said they can continue to expand capacity for a week – but after that, patient care would suffer.

“Where we are is worse than the first surge and we desperately need to stop this rate of increase or else I think we are all at risk.

"Hospitals really will be overwhelmed, so we really need people to stay at home and stay apart from other people", he told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

Professor Rupert Pearse, who is based at the Royal London Hospital, said the dire scenes doctors are facing are worse than during the first wave of Covid-19.

"It is definitely worse than the first wave and proving much harder to deal with now as the resources we had in the first wave aren't available to us," he said.

Asked if he believes the health service could be overwhelmed within two weeks, he replied: "I never thought in my entire career that I might say something like this but yes I do.

"Unless we take the lockdown seriously, the impact on healthcare for the whole country could be catastrophic. And I don't say those words lightly."


His comments echo that of Professor Karol Sikora, who this morning urged Brits to continue to follow the government's campaign message of "hands, face, space".

Posting on social media he said: "We're in a really serious situation, so please follow the rules – washing hands, keeping distance and all the others are so important. If you have symptoms, please self-isolate.

"It's also so important not to delay in seeking help for other medical conditions too."

This week Mr Johnson said there is a “material risk” of healthcare services being overwhelmed within three weeks. 

Addressing the nation on Monday night he said: "Hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic."


The number of patients in hospital has risen by a third in the last week alone – to more than 27,000.

It is far outstripping the peak of hospitalisations during the first wave, which hit 18,973 cases on April 12.

England’s hospitals are now a massive 40 per cent above that figure, with the usual winter strain on the NHS helping to fill up wards. 

Another startling statistic that triggered the Government to act was the UK recording more than 80,000 positive cases in a single day last week – on December 29. 

One intensive care doctor said people need to follow the rules, and that this March will be different from last due to the vaccines being rolled out across the country.

Unlike last March we potentially have an end in sight with the vaccine, a month, maybe two of good behaviour and we can try and get out life back to as normal as possible

Alice Carter, who also works at UCHL said: "It’s not going to take much more for that elastic band to break, that’s the real fear for us at the moment."

Speaking to the Today Programme she added: "Nurses in particularly are being stretched and stretched and I think it’s heartbreaking for us all to be repeatedly working at the limits to what we can emotionally give – that’s the real pressure.

"For everyone in the population this is a massively difficult time and we shouldn't underestimate the phenomenal pressure on everybody – but I think it’s a time to be patient.

"Unlike last March we potentially have an end in sight with the vaccine, a month, maybe two of good behaviour and we can try and get out life back to as normal as possible."

Prof Pearse added: "It is really disappointing to see public figures chip away at public confidence in the value of the lockdown.

"And in particular, seeing MPs speak out against public health measures to me seems very hard for me and my colleagues to forgive right now."

One man, who got struck down with Covid, also urged people stay inside after he caught the virus despite isolating.

Gerard Williams had been shielding as he has lung cancer and said the virus "ain't no joke".

He added: "You don't know how you're going to get your next breath.

"Stay safe, don’t be idiots, forget about running down the road or meeting your mates.

"Everyone needs to buckle down and work together as a team."

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