Hospitals' ICU beds "still full" - and likely to be for some weeks

Nick Hulme, chief executive of ESNEFT, said the trust is prepared for the winter Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

ESNEFT chief executive Nick Hulme said hospital admissions had plateaued in recent weeks - Credit: Archant

The boss of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals has insisted "we are no way out of the challenge" of the coronavirus pandemic despite a fall in patient numbers.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT),  said the hospitals are treating between 350 and 400 patients with Covid-19 between them, a slight decrease since the start of January.

However, this remains more than double the number of patients being treated by ESNEFT at the peak of the first lockdown last spring.

He said the intensive care unit was still full and likely to be for some weeks - and now was not the time to relax restrictions.

The intensive care units at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals have been full since before New Year due to the pressure from...

Ipswich Hospital, which is managed by ESNEFT - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Mr Hulme said the hospitals' intensive care capacity has been doubled and remains "200% full", but admission numbers had started to plateau and were no longer rising exponentially like they were several weeks ago.

The trust is currently treating 45 patients with coronavirus in intensive care and Mr Hulme described the initial surge of the virus as like a "practice run" compared to the second peak.

He also said slightly more patients were being treated with Covid-19 in Colchester than in Ipswich.

The chief executive said less of the trust's staff are now taking time off with sickness and expressed his delight at the speed of the vaccine rollout among healthcare workers.

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While Mr Hulme said he was pleased the number of daily coronavirus deaths in the region and in the UK had begun to fall, he insisted now is not the time to lift any of the lockdown measures.

He said: "We have seen a reduction in the numbers.

"In hindsight, the first surge was a bit of a practice run. It pales in comparison with what we've seen. The hospitals are still under a lot of pressure.

Colchester hospital has been in use as a hub for coronavirus vaccinations recently

More patients are being treated for coronavirus at Colchester Hospital than in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

"Our intensive care is not only full, it's at 200% capacity. It's likely to remain that way for a few weeks.

"We are no way out of the challenge. Although the numbers are going in the right way, we are not thinking about easing the restrictions.

"It's the right thing to do. It would be criminal to relax them now.

"We have captured a lot of ground with the vaccines. But it's going to take time to get to all vulnerable patients. It's going to take some months.

"The virus is still fatal in sadly far too many cases."