Coronavirus patients are being treated outside a hospital in ambulances as rising numbers put “significant pressures” on the NHS.
Footage shared on social media of Queen’s Hospital in Romford, east London, appears to show dozens of emergency vehicles queueing outside the hospital.
It was the latest sign hospitals in England are coming under increasing strain as the number of Covid-19 patients is at its highest ever level during the pandemic.
Health secretary Matt Hancock is due to announce any changes to tier areas in a statement to the Commons on Wednesday.
With case rates rising in all regions of England, and record patient numbers, any changes are likely to involve areas moving up a tier rather than down.
Figures from NHS England showed there were 21,787 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am on Tuesday, compared with 20,426 on Monday, and 18,974 at the first wave peak on April 12.
Total coronavirus cases hit a new record on Tuesday, rising above 50,000 cases for the first time, to 53,135 lab-confirmed cases.
A statement released by the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Queen’s Hospital, urged people to only contact ambulance services in the case of real emergencies.
“Along with the rest of the NHS, we are under considerable pressure as we look after a rising number of Covid-19 patients, some of whom are being cared for safely in ambulances before entering Queen’s Hospital,” it said.
“You can help us by calling NHS 111 if you need medical advice, and only coming to our emergency departments in a real emergency.”
Multiple ambulances were also seen lining the streets near to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, as the Barts Health NHS Trust announced it had moved into a “very high pressure” phase.
Magda Smith, the Trust’s chief medical officer, said: “London’s NHS is under significant pressure from high Covid-19 infection rates and non-Covid winter demands, with staff in all services going the extra mile and we are opening more beds to care for the most unwell patients.
“It is more important than ever that Londoners follow government guidance and do everything possible to reduce transmission of the virus.”
A junior doctor has said his London hospital is “aggressively overstretched” by Covid patients and he expects the situation to worsen.
The doctor, who works in general medicine and wished to remain anonymous, said if the volume of Covid patients continues to increase his hospital will need to start rationing oxygen – which he expects it will.
“We’re just aggressively overstretched… shifts which previously would have been manageable are distinctly not,” the medic told the PA news agency.
“There’s just been a huge expansion in the number of Covid in-patients, the number of patients we’re admitting and the baseline sickness of the patients.
“We are close to or have exceeded maximum capacity already in terms of 100% ideal care… if it goes beyond that then things would be bad.”
The doctor said the current situation in hospitals is as strained as it was in the first wave of Covid-19 earlier this year and he would be “very shocked” if things do not get worse.
He said he and fellow staff are suffering from exhaustion and many patients are being handed over to doctors on the next shift because staff “can’t get through them quickly enough”.
He knows colleagues at another London hospital who have had to lead treatment for multiple cardiac arrests from emergency vehicles because they could not fit them in A&E.
He said “a few” patients at his hospital have had their treatment started in ambulances.
“We haven’t had people being treated in corridors yet, but that partly reflects a fairly rapid rate of death… that clears out bed space, unfortunately,” he said.
The doctor said he sees a couple of patients die per shift and he is currently routinely working 70 hour weeks.
“I was barely able to eat on the nights over Christmas,” he added.
With the virus spreading quickly, Boris Johnson is under pressure to delay the return of schools.
But the government said it is “still planning for a staggered opening of schools” after Christmas but is keeping the plan under constant review.
Johnson’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “We’re still planning for a staggered opening of schools and we are working to ensure testing is in place.
“As we have said throughout the pandemic, we obviously keep all measures under constant review.”
Earlier this month, the government said exam-year students in England would go back to school as normal after the Christmas holidays, from January 4, but the majority of secondary school pupils would start the term online to allow headteachers to roll out mass testing of children and staff.
Schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will also use staggered returns for pupils in January, with some pupils participating in online classes before the gradual reintroduction of face-to-face teaching later in the month or in February for some age groups.