Boris Johnson ‘very likely’ to need ventilator based on other patients, claims expert

PUBLISHED: 09:20 07 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:53 07 April 2020

Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street, London, as he placed the UK on lockdown as the Government seeks to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Picture: PA Video

Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street, London, as he placed the UK on lockdown as the Government seeks to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Picture: PA Video

PA Wire/PA Images

The prime minister is ‘extremely sick’ - with many coronavirus patients who need intensive care requiring invasive ventilation, an expert has said.

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Derek Hill, professor of medical imaging at University College London (UCL), said the PM could be given a breathing aid known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and full ventilation.

CPAP uses pressure to send a blend of air and oxygen into the mouth at a steady rate, thereby boosting the amount of oxygen that enters the lungs.

But Prof Hill said many Covid-19 patients eventually “progress to invasive ventilation”.

This is for people whose illness is so severe they are struggling or unable to breathe for themselves.


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A mechanical ventilator either does all the breathing for the patient, or assists the patient’s own breathing.

The patient is heavily sedated while a device called an endotracheal tube (ET) is guided through the mouth into the windpipe.

Heavy sedation is then continued because having a tube in the throat can be very uncomfortable.

Patients can be fed at the same time through a tube going into their stomach via their nose.

If patients suffer severe oxygen deprivation, they can be placed on their fronts to improve ventilation and get more oxygen into the body.

Research has shown that, in some severe cases of acute respiratory distress syndrome (Ards), laying patients prone for 16 to 20 hours a day can improve their chances of survival.

Prof Hill said it was unclear whether Johnson was breathing on his own, or with the help of a ventilator.

He added: “One of the features of Covid-19 in all countries seems to be that many more men become seriously ill than women - especially in the over 40 age group.

“Also we know that people under about 60 seem to have a higher chance of making a recovery from critical illness with Covid-19 than older people.

“But there is no doubt this turn of events means Boris Johnson is extremely sick.

“It illustrates three of the important healthcare needs of Covid-19.

“Firstly, many patients need help breathing, and there is a shortage of the mechanical ventilators that can do this - and in particular a shortage of the high quality intensive care ventilators most suitable for Covid-19 patients who might need help breathing for over a week.

“Secondly, Covid-19 patients need a huge amount of oxygen to help them breathe - which is potentially going to be in short supply.

“Thirdly, looking after people in intensive care requires skilled staff, and the experience of New York has been that finding enough skilled staff has been the greatest challenge.”

• Additional reporting by the PA News Agency.

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