Intensive care nurses are now looking after six times the number of patients they would normally, due to pressure from coronavirus, senior doctors have said.
The highly-trained specialists usually devote themselves entirely to monitoring the symptoms and electronic data from a single patient.
However, the Faculty for Intensive Care Medicine says these roles are now being carried out by less qualified healthcare assistants, with one nurse overseeing as many as six patients.
Meanwhile intensive care consultants are being told to look after 30 critical care patients at any one time, up from 10 normally.
Dr Alison Pettard, from the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, which signed off on the new arrangements, suggested they risked losing vital seconds when patients deteriorate.
“With intensive care nurses you have to have people who know what they are looking at on the monitor and can interpret that data and make a decision, such as to increase or decrease oxygen, change the ventilator settings, administer infusion pumps,” Dr Pettard said.
“With critical care patients you can’t predict how things are going to develop and things can change very, very quickly.
“If you can intervene early it can prevent organ failure.”
The FICM was consulted on the new guidance for treatment of intensive care patients during the Covid-19 outbreak.
An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS staff are working round the clock to deal with this unprecedented global health threat and, as the professional colleges have already said and agreed to, doctors, nurses and other health professionals will rightly respond flexibly and compassionately.”