A leading hospital chief is “nervous” people will put pressure on the health system by flouting the Covid-19 lockdown over Easter.
Dr David Rosser, chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham – one of the largest acute trusts in England – urged people to stick to the rules and not be “falsely reassured” about the apparent effectiveness of measures to date.
He said there was “something deep in the psyche of people wanting to go out on a bank holiday weekend”.
“So I guess that’s what we’re most nervous about, that people are falsely reassured this is almost over,” he added.
“Then towards the end of the week we (in hospital) start reaping the consequences of that.”
We've got significantly more ventilator capacity than we are predicting we would needDr Rosser
It comes as health chiefs said the lockdown appeared to be “having an impact” on infection rates.
Speaking on Thursday, Dr Rosser also said it was now looking likely the peak in patients needing ventilation would be “significantly lower than we thought”, adding the trust – which runs four hospitals – currently had “about 100” ventilators unused.
He added: “At the moment all those projected peaks are well within our capacity within the West Midlands.”
Dr Rosser, who runs a trust that treats two million patients annually, said: “We’ve got significantly more ventilator capacity than we are predicting we would need.”
He added that because of the lag time between people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19, “the reality is we will still be seeing pressure in the hospitals two, three, four weeks down the line from when the infection rates out there have dropped”.
That was where the Birmingham Nightingale Hospital would come into play, he added, “to absorb that peak in ward beds” and allow the region to “avoid the dreadful scenes we saw in Italy”.
Dr Rashmi Shukla, Public Health England’s West Midlands and East of England regional director, said lockdown measures were “having an impact and will continue to have an impact”.
“I don’t think we can say that the peak is not going to be as large as we think, too confidently,” she added.
“I think what we can get some confidence from is the rate of increase in cases we’re seeing both nationally and across the West Midlands.
“That rate has slowed compared to what it was at the beginning of March.
“That might mean the peak might be flatter but we can’t put anything substantive on that at this stage,” she said, but accepted the data looked “promising”.
During a video conference call with journalists, Dr Rosser was also asked about reports some of the 253 ventilators, purchased from abroad and arriving at Midlands hospitals over the weekend, had not been working correctly.
Dr Rosser said his trust took delivery of 140 of the ventilators, saying those had been “perfectly functional”, adding “they have some quirks but all these machines do”.
He said a “significant number” were now in use, adding that before they arrived there had been some nervousness about a ventilator shortage in the Midlands.
Dr Rosser added: “I have heard some noise from the Black Country, (that) they are less happy with what I understand are the same devices.
“I think it’s to do with some of the tubing – it’s not been the right tubes that came with them.
“But a local manufacturer has stepped into the breach and is making these tubes for us.
“I’d like to think the noise you’re hearing will settle down pretty quickly.”
He qualified his remarks by saying he was “stepping outside my knowledge, talking about other people’s hospitals really”.
It comes as the Birmingham Nightingale Hospital prepares to take patients from Friday.
With an initial capacity for up to 800 patients, Dr Rosser said the first clinical visitors would probably be a handful of “test patients”, due to be discharged from Midlands hospitals anyway, who will be invited in to help road-test the facility.
He added the hospital would only be used once existing hospitals, which run out of capacity, enact what Dr Rosser called a “trigger process”.
Asked if any modelling had been done around numbers needed to reach that trigger point, Dr Rosser said: “No. It’s too volatile – too difficult – to put numbers on it.”