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Lockdown anniversary: We saved as many lives as we could – London’s top doctor

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London’s top doctor today insisted the capital’s NHS did everything it could to save as many lives as possible as he paid tribute to the dedication of healthcare staff.

Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for NHS London, said extensive preparations avoided the NHS collapsing under the pressure, despite there being more than 1,000 patients on ventilators at the peak of both waves and more than 5,200 in hospital with covid in April and 7,900 in January.

On the first anniversary of lockdown, he told the Evening Standard: “Overall, if you were to say, knowing what we knew at each point over the course of the year, do you think we in the NHS in London did absolutely everything we could, I think we did.

“We were really careful and deliberate about learning each time something happened, and if things happened again, what would we do differently? If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have been able to manage as well as we did.”

His remarks came as two of London’s most senior critical care doctors recalled the struggle to cope against the rapid advance of covid with a shortage of staff and supplies. They also warned of the long-term impact of the pandemic on the mental health of frontline staff.

By last night, the London death toll had reached 18,541, based on people who had covid mentioned on their death certificate.

St Thomas’s hospital, where Dr Diwakar volunteered for ICU nursing shifts

/ AFP via Getty Images

Dr Diwakar revealed he had volunteered for nursing nightshifts in intensive care at St Thomas’s hospital because he “just wanted to do my bit” and to understand the challenges that hospitals faced. He has also been working as a vaccinator.

Reflecting on the past year, he said: “One of my colleagues tells me that they can remember me in December 2019, at the end of a management meeting, saying: ‘Has anybody here heard of Wuhan?’”

Between January and March last year NHS London was busy planning for a possible pandemic. The first focus was on the capacity of the infectious disease units in the capital, with the Royal Free and St Thomas’s both receiving patients in February.

Then, as it became clear the virus was spreading, the priority became expanding the number of intensive care beds. At the time, London had about 900.

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