How full are the region’s hospitals compared with past winters?

Six more patients with coronavirus have died at hospitals in Suffolk and north Essex. Picture: SARAH

Six more patients with coronavirus have died at hospitals in Suffolk and north Essex. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

The number of people needing critical care at our hospitals has soared this winter – with one treating three times as many patients. 

Every winter, weekly reports are released by each hospital trust showing the number of beds taken up by patients as they battle the annual winter crisis. 

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has seen routine surgery cancelled at Ipswich Hospital and cancer activity moved into private healthcare, with medics under more pressure than ever before. 

Another Covid ward was created at Ipswich last weekend, as chief executive Nick Hulme revealed 25 patients were in its intensive care unit – up from the 11 usually available. 

Nick Hulme speaking at the meeting in the Corn Exchange. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Health bosses, including ESNEFT boss Nick Hulme and West Suffolk Hospital chief executive Dr Steve Dunn, signed an open letter issuing a plea to the public over their Christmas plans during Covid-19 - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/West Suffolk Hospital

The latest hospital data reveals there were 54 adult critical care beds occupied across Suffolk and north Essex as of January 3. That is up by more than a third on the same day last year. 

At no point between December 3 and January 3 in the previous four winters have there been as many adult critical care patients at one time in Suffolk and north Essex. 

West Suffolk Hospital has seen a tripling in the number of patients treated in critical care this winter, with 21 occupying beds as of January 3 – compared with seven last year. 

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Throughout the past four winters, critical care patients at the hospital have rarely gone into double figures. 

Across Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, which merged in 2018, there were 33 patients occupying critical care beds on January 3.

That is 65% higher than the 20 treated on the same day last winter, and 53% higher than at any point during the past four winters. 

What about the rest of the hospital? 

Numbers of patients occupying general and acute beds across the three main hospitals have fallen this winter, with levels of beds available also dropping. 

On January 3, there were 1,287 people occupying these beds across Suffolk and north Essex, down from 1,547 last year. At the same time, the number of beds classified as being ‘open’ for patients fell by around 8% from 1,625 last winter to 1,480 this year. 

Looking at the hospitals in isolation, Ipswich and Colchester hospitals recorded a sustained fall in general and acute beds occupied between December 3 and January 3, with the percentage of available beds staying below 90% from mid-December to early January. 

Over the past four winters, capacity levels have fluctuated between 90% and 100% throughout this period. 

This is also the case for West Suffolk Hospital, which had 370 patients in general and acute beds on January 3, compared with 421 the previous winter. 

Capacity levels have also stayed below 90% throughout the majority of December. 

‘Difficult to see a way out’ 

As of Friday, 430 patients were battling coronavirus across Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, with 160 at West Suffolk Hospital as of Thursday. 

That is more than triple the number of patients who fought Covid during the first wave. 

On Monday, Mr Hulme said the hospital was using its surgery unit for additional space and as of that morning, there were 25 patients in intensive care.  

"It's difficult to see a way out of this situation without further deaths and further families losing grandparents and parents," he added. 

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that the NHS is prepared for a wider outbreak of coronavirus

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that the NHS is prepared for a wider outbreak of coronavirus Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire - Credit: PA

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned on Monday that the next few weeks will be "worst weeks of the pandemic". 

Urging people to stay at home unless they absolutely have to, Prof Whitty told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We got to be very clear that we are now at the worst point of this epidemic for the UK.” 

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