A major London hospital became the first in the country to be overwhelmed by coronavirus as exhausted nurses revealed they were wearing bin bags to protect themselves.
In a message to staff, Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow said it had no critical care beds left after a sudden surge in patients infected with Covid-19.
Six people have died at the hospital so far with dozens of others struggling to breathe in intensive care.
As pressure grows on hospitals across the UK, one senior health chief suggested an age threshold of 60 might be placed on admissions in order to relieve pressure on beds.
The critical incident at Northwick Park was eventually stood down after 24 hours when patients were transferred to nearby hospitals, freeing up space.
But a senior nurse at the hospital told the Telegraph that Northwick Park was “likely to run out of room again” within hours.
The nurse, who did not wish to be named, issued a plea for proper masks, gowns and gloves as she revealed staff were forced to wear clinical waste bags on their heads and feet for protection.
“We had to use our initiative. We had no other choice or we could catch the virus ourselves,” she told the Telegraph.
“We need proper PPE kit now, or nurses and doctors are going to die. It’s as simple as that.
“We’re treating our own colleagues on the ward after they caught the virus from patients. How can that be right?
“There are so many younger people here on ventilation – many with asthma, or diabetes. They can’t stop coughing, they just cough and cough and cough and they can’t help it.
“But there’s little we can do apart from try to help them breathe. Sometimes the body just gives up, and they die. We can’t save them.
“And the worst part is that we can’t allow their relatives in to say goodbye.
“Even our own families don’t want us to come home in case we bring back the disease. What can we do?
“There’s too many Covid patients coming in to cope with. We put on our brave smiles but inside we’re terrified. I don’t know what will happen next.”
The hospital is run by London North West University Healthcare Trust, which has since reported six deaths related to coronavirus, all at Northwick Park.
The potential lack of critical care beds in England has been the major concern around coronavirus, and trusts are currently repurposing wards and retraining staff to try and create more capacity. National leaders have suggested the number of critical care beds likely needs to rise by several times.
A senior director at another London acute trust told Health Service Journal: “Given we’re in the low foothills of this virus, this is f***ing petrifying.
“The thing people aren’t really talking about yet is that we are going to have to quickly agree some clinical thresholds for admissions to intensive care. This is what the Italians have had to do, and whether it’s set at 60 or whatever, we are going to have to do something similar. There’s no way we’re going to be able to scale up to the level we need otherwise.
“The trusts in outer London seem to be hit much worse at the moment, probably about two weeks ahead of the rest of the country. Barnet, Lewisham and Greenwich, Epsom and St Helier, North Middlesex and Hillingdon are all struggling.
“I was in denial about the seriousness of this virus a couple of weeks ago, but not anymore.”
A spokesperson for London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust said: “We can confirm that our Critical Incident status has been stood down. Critical care capacity for patients with coronavirus is being organised on a cross-London basis so that hospitals and organisations work together to deliver the best possible care for patients and that is what has happened in this case.”