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Britain's oldest hospital is increasing the number of beds in its intensive care unit from 16 to 70 to help cope with the coronavirus crisis.

Britain’s oldest hospital is increasing the number of beds in its intensive care unit from 16 to 70 to help cope with the coronavirus crisis.

St Barts Hospital is extending the unit over the sixth floor of the hospital in the City of London to help care for more patients.

In a video to staff, chief executive and cardiologist Professor Charles Knight explained how the hospital has worked to meet the challenge of caring for so many patients with the virus by expanding its ICU unit.

So far 12 patients have died from coronavirus at hospitals run by the Barts NHS Trust which also includes the Royal London, Mile End, Newham and Whipps Cross hospitals.

He said: “We normally have 16 beds and our plan is to expand over the whole of the sixth floor to up to 70 beds once we get all the equipment.

“That’s going  to make a huge difference and these patients will be treated really really well but in a world class facility isolated from other patients.”

Neil Anderson, the critical care matron of the Intensive Care Unit explained: “We have robust plans to expand our critical care beds here and on the sixth floor.”

Barts was founded in 1123 with a hospital on the same central London site.

It is now a leading cardiac and cancer care centre.

Professor Knight said it would be taking a lead role in caring for any emergency cases during the period the coronavirus lasts.

He said: “We’re focusing on what we do best, looking after emergency heart patients.  The heart attack centre and the emergency heart rhythm services are going on as usual.

“With colleagues across London we have set up a hub on the first floor  here we’ve set up a hub to coordinate emergency surgery care for the whole London.

“It’s really important that we remember that people are still going to get ill with things other than covid.”

And the hospital has put 350 NHS heroes and heroines through training in just five days at its on-site simulation centre to help prepare them for coping with the crisis.

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Professor Knight stressed that the hospital is also following strict guidelines to protect vulnerable patients.

Coronavirus patients are in isolation and only allowed visits by a single close family member who will be assessed and asked to wear protective clothing.

Other visits are being reduced.

Professor Knight said: “Cancer and heart patients are particularly vulnerable to the Covid infection so we’ve put in stringent measures to reduce visitor footfall and to enhance hand hygiene.”

The pathology lab is now able to test for coronavirus and the hospital is getting daily deliveries of personal protective equipment.

Professor Knight praised staff for dealing with the challenging times.

“An enormous thank you to you all. You have done an amazing job. We have completely reorganised the way we work over just two weeks and I’m awe struck by your dedication, hard work and commitment.”

And he said that as staff braced themselves for testing times he knew they would do their best for their patients.

“I’m not going to pretend that we won’t be tested like most of us have never been tested  before over the next few weeks as we deal with this pandemic. But we have been here a long time.

“This hospital has been treating Londoners for 900 years. We treated people in the Blitz, we treated people in the great plague without the  huge armoury of medical technology that we have in our hospital today.

“So look after each other, be kind to each other. We can only do our best. But our best is bloody good. We’re going to do a fantastic job for Londoners over the next few weeks.”

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