Newly released official survival rates from a research centre showed that coronavirus patients in ICU units only have a 50 per cent chance of coming out alive.
DATA from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) showed that of 165 patients treated in critical care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since the end of February, 79 died, while 86 survived and were discharged.
Seven hundred and seventy five people in the audit had been or are in critical care with the disease, across 285 intensive care units with the remaining 610 patients continuing to receive intensive care.
These high death rates raise questions about just how effective critical care will be in saving the lives of people struck down by the disease.
As a top priority, the NHS is opening field hospitals in London, Birmingham and Manchester, which will incorporate some of the biggest critical care units ever seen in Britain.
“The truth is that quite a lot of these individuals [in critical care] are going to die anyway and there is a fear that we are just ventilating them for the sake of it, for the sake of doing something for them, even though it won’t be effective. That’s a worry,” one doctor said.
The report also found that though the majority of those who have died from coronavirus across the UK were over 70, nine of the 79 who died in intensive care were aged between 16 and 49, as were 28 of the 86 who survived.
The audit suggested that men are at much higher risk from the virus – seven in 10 of all ICU patients were male, while 30 per cent of men in critical care were under 60, compared to just 15 per cent of women. Excess weight also appears to be a significant risk factor; over 70 per cent of patients were overweight, obese or clinically obese on the body mass index scale.
The former health minister Dan Poulter, who works as a psychiatrist in wards with many cases of the virus, says widespread testing could be a “game-changer” that would prevent staff who are asymptomatic carriers of the virus from passing it on to patients in hospital for other reasons.
Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, announced on Friday that extra testing would be carried out on NHS staff from this weekend, he also made it clear that this would initially be directed only at key NHS staff and care workers who were self-isolating. Many doctors, nurses and other staff want it extended to all frontline staff.
He said: “We have many such clinicians already in senior leadership roles in hospitals throughout the country,” he says. “It’s time to better utilise their knowledge and experience.”