Tier 3 warning as highest ever number of patients fight Covid in hospital

Ipswich Hospital - inset, a paramedic wearing protective equipment Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN/PA WIRE

Ipswich Hospital is worst hit in the region by Covid cases as infections continue to soar - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN/PA WIRE

The number of people fighting coronavirus in the region’s hospitals has rapidly increased in the last week - with public health bosses warning Suffolk may end up in Tier 3 if the pattern continues.

Data out on Friday shows Ipswich Hospital is hardest hit of the three major hospitals, with 130 Covid patients being treated, up from 110 earlier in December. 

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds has seen Covid-19 patients in its beds rise from 17 to 44 in a single week, while Colchester Hospital is now treating 50 people with Covid-19, up from 35.

It means that across Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, which form the merged East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), 180 patients were in hospital beds with Covid-19 as of Friday.

That is up from a peak of 143 during the first wave in April, and West Suffolk’s numbers have also increased slightly from the spring.

At the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston, numbers have not yet hit the peak of April. It has around 40 patients in beds, but its figures are also rising.

Stuart Keeble, Suffolk's public health director, said there has been an "acceleration" of hospital cases over the last four or five days, following an increase in cases since October. 

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Figures presented to Friday's local outbreak engagement board revealed Covid hospital patient numbers hit just under 250 across Suffolk on Thursday.

Bar chart showing upward Covid case trend in Suffolk

A bar chart shown to Suffolk's Local Outbreak Engagement Board on Friday, showing an "acceleration" in Covid-19 patients occupying beds in our local hospitals - Credit: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL/PUBLIC HEALTH SUFFOLK

Mr Keeble revealed that the county had seen a "clear jump" in the most recent data with around 50 'excess' deaths - surpassing usual projections from flu and other non-Covid-related illnesses.

He added: "This is a serious situation, and if it carries on in this direction, I would suspect we will end up in Tier 3 at some point, because if it continues at that kind of rate, it's going to be taking that up to extremely high levels."

It comes as health bosses across Suffolk penned an open letter with a stark plea to the public over surging Covid cases in the county – particularly in Ipswich, where rates reached 200 per 100,000 people on Wednesday. 

Bosses representing the county’s hospitals, GPs, care homes and mental health services urged people to think twice about their Christmas plans, including seeing elderly relatives. 

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

Pressure from both Covid-19 and non-coronavirus related illnesses is ramping up as winter begins to bite, impacting all major services across the county - particularly hospital capacity. 

"Sadly, we no longer have the capacity to lower our guard or lessen our resolve over the festive period,” health chiefs warned in the letter. 

"We do not offer this advice lightly – Christmas gatherings are, of course, very special and personal celebrations. However, this is an extraordinary year. We know our health and care services would be under significant pressure if cases continue to rise in January.” 

ESNEFT boss Nick Hulme urged people not to avoid hospital, particularly if they were seriously ill with non-Covid related illnesses, adding: “We know that as infection rates rise, so do hospital admissions, that’s why it’s really important people in our communities take action now to prevent more people from becoming unwell with this awful virus.” 

The latest figures also show there are eight people being treated for Covid-19 at hospitals owned by the region’s mental health trust. 

People are continuing to need intensive treatment through mechanical ventilators, with 10 such patients receiving it at Ipswich and Colchester - down from 34 at the peak of the first wave. Two people are on ventilators at West Suffolk, down from eight in April. 

There are also fewer hospital deaths being recorded this time around, which could account for greater awareness of the virus and better treatments, alongside differing ways of attributing Covid-19 deaths. 

Across the east of England, the number of people in hospital beds with Covid is up 70% in December so far at 1,700. 

Of those, 108 are on mechanical ventilators, the highest number since May. 

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