(BBC) – The number of coronavirus patients on mechanical ventilation in the UK has passed 4,000 for the first time in the pandemic.
A total of 4,076 Covid patients were on hospital ventilators as of Friday, according to government data.
That is higher than during the first wave, when the peak was 3,301 on 12 April.
It comes as another 1,348 deaths and 33,552 new infections were reported on Saturday.
The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told a Downing Street news briefing on Friday: “The death rate’s awful and it’s going to stay, I’m afraid, high for a little while before it starts coming down.”
Meanwhile, new figures show that a record number of seriously-ill Covid patients are being transferred from over-stretched hospitals because of a lack of bed space.
About 1 in 10 patients admitted to intensive care are being sent to a different site, according to the body which audits critical care services.
In a series of reports in the past week, the BBC’s Clive Myrie has been to a mortuary and the Royal London Hospital, where 12 out of 15 floors are occupied by Covid patients and staff are struggling to cope.
Martin Freeborn’s wife Helen, 64, died with Covid-19 at the hospital shortly before he spoke to the BBC.
Mr Freeborn urged people to “be over-careful” in taking precautions to stay safe from the virus because “you don’t want this to happen”.
“Nobody wants to go through this… Don’t end up like us, please,” he added.
The number of people in mechanical ventilation beds has climbed every day since 18 December when it was 1,364 and now stands at 4,076.
It is one of the key figures the government considers when deciding its policy on when to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
When the pandemic first struck the UK, the government saw what had happened in hospitals in China and Italy and prioritised the provision of ventilators in British hospitals.
It set about buying as many ventilators as possible, and encouraged British manufacturers to design the machines to build stocks to cope with the worst-case Covid scenario. In September last year, a report found the NHS now had 30,000 ventilators available – about one for every 2,200 people in the UK.
People in hospital are also being treated differently from the early days of the pandemic – which may explain why figures suggest slightly more people go on to recover after being on ventilation than back in March, April and May.
A number of drugs are being tested as possible treatments for people with the disease, the BBC’s health and science correspondent James Gallagher has said.
They include the steroid dexamethasone, which has been shown to reduce the risk of death by a third for ventilated patients and by a fifth for those on oxygen. Encouraging results have also been reported from two anti-inflammatory medications, tocilizumab and sarilumab.