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Hospitals would have been overwhelmed by virus without extra ITU beds

PUBLISHED: 06:30 05 June 2020 | UPDATED: 13:09 05 June 2020

The number of Covid patients in the ITU at Ipswich Hospital and Colchester Hospital has dropped by 82% since the peak in April. Picture: DR GEORGE BOSTOCK

The number of Covid patients in the ITU at Ipswich Hospital and Colchester Hospital has dropped by 82% since the peak in April. Picture: DR GEORGE BOSTOCK

Dr George Bostock

The scale of the coronavirus pandemic in Ipswich and Colchester was laid bare as it was revealed 75% of hospital ITU beds were occupied by Covid patients during the peak.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, has said services will never to return to how they were before the coronavirus outbreak.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNNick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, has said services will never to return to how they were before the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

On April 18 and 19 there were 33 people being treated in the Intensive Therapy Units (ITUs) across Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals - which had only housed a total of 25 beds until the weeks leading up to the outbreak.

The East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) held a council of governors meeting online yesterday and Chief Executive Nick Hulme told members that the number of beds had been increased to 44 in anticipation of the pandemic.

The peak locally came on April 18 when as well as the 33 patients being treated in ITUs the hospitals were also caring for 114 other patients who were seriously ill with Covid-19 in other ward.

There are currently six patients being treated in ITU, with a further 60 seriously ill being treated on the wards.

Nick Hulme praised staff, describing them as “incredible” but warned the threat has not passed.

He said: “Just yesterday we had six new infections on the Ipswich site which is the highest number we’ve seen in weeks.”

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The hospital chief added: “We are balancing now slowly trying to safely start our services, against also the surveillance work of understanding that the relaxation of lockdown and the relaxation of some aspects of our so called ‘normal lives’ is to be very aware that we may have to open up additional and huge capacity in ITU again should we see a second peak.

And he fears the real challenge is yet to come for his staff, explaining: “I think that in terms of Covid-19 we’ve done the easy bit – we’ve done the bit that has been well supported by the public, the treasury and politicians.

“The next phase we are going to be faced with is the far greater challenge of starting our services in a new world with all sorts of constraints that were not previously there.

“It is going to be incredibly difficult to start our services and it won’t be just flicking a switch and saying lets do all the operations again.”

Mr Hulme admitted the trust will never again provide services in the way they did before the pandemic, with more virtual services being pushed forward and a reduction in the footfall to the hospital.

One measure that could be introduced would be patients attending hospital for elective surgery, and their households, having to isolate for 14 days prior to their operation.

He also told governors that they need to be prepared for the usual winter spike in A&E attendances, with increased numbers of patients making social distancing difficult and putting further strain on PPE supplies.


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