The largest hospital trust in England has become the first to declare it has no Covid-19 patients requiring treatment in intensive care.
Dr David Rosser, who heads the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), said there were signs that infected patients “don’t seem as sick, on average, as they were”.
At the peak of the recent outbreak, around 30 per cent of the trust’s normal treatment capacity had been taken up to cope with Covid-19 patients, the health chief told a webinar with the media.
The West Midlands has been among the hardest hit regions in the country by the virus, with 4,735 dying after testing positive for Covid-19.
However, with the virus now appearing to be in retreat across most of the country, UHB is believed to be the first in England to clear its intensive care wards of coronavirus patients.
Dr Rosser, who leads a trust which runs four hospitals including Birmingham’s vast Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said there were just 43 “active-Covid” patients in treatment across the trust.
Another 140 were described as “in prolonged recovery”.
By contrast, around 100 patients were on ventilators alone during the peak of the pandemic at the trust.
But Dr Rosser said the number of new cases having been admitted was down to “less than double figures” in the last few days.
He added: “We actually have no Covid-19 positive patients in the ITUs (intensive treatment units) at all at the moment which is the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. In the region, that’s the first time, that’s good.”
He added that there could be signs the virus may be weakening, while cautioning that patient numbers were so small it could be a “coincidence”.
Dr Rosser said: “At the peak of the pandemic, for every 43 patients we had in the hospital we had about 10 patients in the ITU. So it’s interesting in that we’ve got 40-odd patients with active Covid in the hospital and none of them need intensive care.
“I don’t think we understand or have the insights into what that is about, but it’s interesting how current patients don’t seem as sick, on average, as they were. That may be just a coincidence – it’s all very small numbers.”
Turning to the longer-term knock-on effects on “ordinary services”, Dr Rosser said getting back to full capacity would be “extremely difficult”.
He said: “The NHS’s capacity was stretched slightly beyond its limits. We lost pretty much 30 per cent of our capacity by changes we have had to make to make patients and staff safe. There’s a lot of things we were doing before, that we simply don’t have capacity to do at the moment.”
He added that “prioritisation” meant there were “some pretty unpleasant decisions” having to be made on what services can be offered and to whom.
“We are not going to be in a position where we are going to be able say for the next 18 months we are going to have five orthopaedic theatres and three general surgery theatres,” he said. “We’re going to have to make sure all our resources are as flexible as possible.”