Ipswich Hospital boss warns of 'difficult situation' over Christmas should county virus rise continue

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester...

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals - Credit: Rachel Edge

The chief executive of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals has warned local healthcare systems could face a "difficult situation" should coronavirus rates continue to rise in Suffolk.

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust chief Nick Hulme made the warning one day after Colchester began administering the coronavirus vaccine to vulnerable people.

Mr Hulme said he is "very alarmed" by the situation in Suffolk, where local authorities, especially Ipswich, have been reporting rises in coronavirus case rates in recent days.

Mr Hulme said the vaccine's introduction - which is not yet ready in Ipswich - does not mean the crisis is over "by any means".

Despite Ipswich Hospital having seen a slight decrease from its highest ever number of coronavirus cases, he believes the situation will surely worsen over the Christmas period when restrictions temporarily ease.

Suffolk and north Essex hospitals, including Ipswich Hospital, are prepared for a 'second surge' of

There are currently more than 100 people in Ipswich hospitalised with Covid-19 - Credit: Archant

"Things have gone down slightly, but we still have a lot of Covid patients." Mr Hulme said. 

"We currently have 110 patients with coronavirus at Ipswich Hospital and 35 at Colchester, the numbers are still high.

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"There is still pressure on us because although we may have an empty bed, it doesn't necessarily make it an empty bed as we have to isolate our Covid patients.

"The rising Covid cases across Suffolk will have an impact. The pressure is absolutely still on us.

"It does concern me as we are approaching what some people are calling the 'Christmas amnesty' giving people greater flexibilities over Christmas - I think it will inevitably increase the number of people we see in hospitals.

"I have however spoken to a number of families who will not be seeing their loved ones over Christmas. But it is all a personal decision, just because you could doesn't mean you should.

"I know everyone has had a dreadful year, but it is the question of whether it is worth that risk."

Mr Hulme added the hospital has had to cancel a small number of elective surgeries and appointments as a result of the number of coronavirus cases within the hospitals. 

The situation in intensive care has improved however, with doctors and nurses now better understanding how to treat patients with oxygen and steroids compared to the first wave.

In terms of a vaccine, Mr Hulme said he does not know when Ipswich will begin administering it, with the hospital needing both freezers capable of storing the vaccine - as well as doses of the vaccine itself.

"There is a limited supply and it will take several weeks and months to get our vulnerable vaccinated, whether they be health care workers, care workers, staff or patients." he said.

"It is going to take a while and we have to ask people to be patient.

"We haven't got a date yet as to when the vaccine will be available on the Ipswich site, but I understand vaccines will be made available sooner in community settings such as GP surgeries.

"It would be such a shame for people to let their guard down at the 11th hour. If people let their guard down too quickly then the health service, especially with everything else we see at winter, could be put in a difficult situation."

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