The battle of Coronavirus will partly be waged in the Intensive Care units of local hospitals. So, with only eight of these beds in the Kent & Canterbury Hospital, the starting point is not a good one. That means we have one bed for every 15,000 people in our parliamentary constituency.
Government plans to double the number of beds in the country might sound impressive on a national scale — taking England from 4,000 to 9,000 or so. But, in our area it would still leave us with just one bed for 7,000 citizens.The five hospitals that make up the East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust have 1,000 beds between them. Within that total, the Trust confirmed with The Canterbury Journal that 33 of these beds are within Intensive Care. The Trust serves a population of 700,000. So if every single bed in were used for CV patients, we would have one for 700 people.
And beds are just a part of the story: we also need ventilators and medics. Regarding staff, this is one of the comments made on the Glassdoor jobs platform about Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in Margate: “Always severe staff shortage.. As a newly qualified I had to manage the ward on night shifts due to staff shortage which is highly dangerous.”
This is why Boris Johnson has warned “many more families” to prepare to “lose loved ones before their time”. The “loved ones” euphemism refers mainly to the elderly, those with existing respiratory conditions and people with complex multiple conditions.
Unlike Italy which is still seeking to stop the virus spreading, the UK is accepting its diffusion.
The UK government is going into a war accepting a high level of casualties — and most of those victims will be the oldest ones and the weakest amongst us. In the Canterbury constituency, some 5 per cent of people (6,000+) are 80 or over, and 12 per cent (14,000+) have high blood pressure (a common condition amongst Wuhan victims), according to parliamentary statistics.
The average daily rate of increase in the numbers of diagnosed Covid-19 cases has been about 30 per cent. That puts us behind Italy by about two weeks — although those cases that become fatal are consistently coming out at half the rate of the Italian ones at each stage.
Dr Gianpiero della Patrona is an expert in public health, having retired five years ago as head of prevention in the Alpine town of Sondrio in Italy. He says: “The hospitals in Sondrio are under pressure. Right from the start it has been said that corona virus was highly contagious — but the fact is that over 80 per cent of people infected have symptoms similar to flu. The problem in Italy is that we have a concentration of cases in some regions where the health structures struggle to deal with the numbers of people needing Intensive Care.”
The provision of hospital beds is significantly higher in Italy (3.2 per 1,000 people) than in the UK (2.5), according to OECD stats from 2018. And the East Kent stats are even lower than that — as our numbers translate into 1.4 beds per 1,000. So we could — as the “loved ones” message suggests — be in for a torrid time. A potentially significant area of divergence between Italy and the UK is the death rate.
That could be genuine — since, for instance, Italians live to 84, on average, two years longer than we do, according to Worldometer. This means they have two more years of life where they are relatively fragile. Or it could be the way that practices vary in writing death certificates — with Italian doctors more likely, perhaps, to put corona virus as the cause of death with UK practitioners maybe attributing a similar case to pneumonia.
Looking to the future, Dr della Patrona says: “I hope this experience will encourage Italian politicians to spend more money on health.” It looks as if we could well come to the same painful conclusion in the UK. In Canterbury thousands of people arrived at that view several years ago — joining the organisation CHEK (Concern for Health in East Kent) and marching in their thousands. A particular call they made was for better provision of acute services.
Comment from a spokesman for East Kent Hospitals in response to an inquiry from the Journal about what plans there are to increase the numbers of Intensive Care beds:
“Like the rest of the NHS, we are preparing for all possible scenarios, including significant numbers of patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) who need hospital care. This work includes looking at our supplies of equipment and our capacity. We are used to dealing with the pressures that unusual circumstances can put our hospital under and we are following national guidelines and procedures to keep our patients safe.
“People can help by following the latest Government advice to stay at home for seven days if you develop a high temperature or a new, continuous cough. Only patients admitted to hospital are now being tested for the virus. The best way to prevent the spread of infection is to frequently wash your hands with soap and water and we encourage everyone to do this. If you are well you should attend your planned appointments unless we contact you to suggest otherwise.”