Covid patients at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals triple peak of first wave

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

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said they are facing a very challenging time. - Credit: Rachel Edge

The number of Covid patients in Ipswich and Colchester hospitals is now three times what it was at the peak of the pandemic's first wave, their chief executive has warned.

There are currently 430 patients battling coronavirus compared to the 143 recorded across both sites at the peak of the first wave, said Nick Hulme, the boss of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust - which runs the hospitals.

The number of Covid patients is up 55% on the week ending December 23, when 277 people were being treated for the virus in both hospitals, according to Public Health Suffolk.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust Picture: SARAH LUCY

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said more younger people are being admitted to hospital with Covid-19. - Credit: Archant

Mr Hulme described it as "a much tighter situation" than he has seen in his career, adding that the average age of those being admitted to hospital with the virus has dropped.

"We are seeing more younger people with Covid in hospitals, however, not all of them are getting seriously ill," said Mr Hulme.

"Even for people who think they are young, fit, healthy and completely immune to this, that is not the case.

"Even if they don’t become unwell, they can pass the virus on to others, which is why the stay at home message is so important."

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He said the hospitals may not appear to be full, as they are unable to use all of the beds for infection control reasons.

However, he added he has "never seen the hospitals as full or as busy with very sick patients" in his career.

"The hospitals are full," said Mr Hulme.

"We look at the number of occupied beds at midnight and most nights we are full in terms of the planned admissions and we have just about got enough beds to see those patients."

The trust plans to expand the intensive care units (ICU) at the hospitals next week, despite both of them already being double the size they have been in the past.

Ipswich Hospital

There are 430 patients battling Covid-19 in Ipswich and Colchester hospitals. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Mr Hulme said he was not sure how many beds will be added and this will be carefully planned over the weekend, depending on the equipment, level of staffing and physical space available.

"We are running very hot, particularly in terms of the numbers of patients on ICU and general respiratory beds," he said.

"My prediction is that the hospitals are going to get hotter still and even more challenging over the next fortnight.

"It will probably get worse before it gets better as we haven't yet seen any additional infections which were picked up over the Christmas period, and we won’t be seeing the effects of the lockdown yet."

According to Mr Hulme, the number of people dying from coronavirus at the hospitals is also rising.

He said it is unclear yet whether this is because the new strain is more serious, but said more people are dying as there are higher numbers of Covid patients being admitted.

He said what is happening at the hospitals is concerning, but his staff are managing the situation by working closely with the clinical team. 

A patient receives a coronavirus vaccine dose at Two Rivers Medical Centre in Ipswich

The vaccines are now being distributed across Suffolk. - Credit: Archant

"Clearly, we have a challenge as we have less staff than normal, as staff are becoming unwell, sickness is higher at this time of the year, and obviously some are getting Covid as there is so much of it in the community," he said. 

"We are not in a crisis, as that would suggest we don’t know what we are doing next, but we do and this is carefully planned hour by hour, but it is a much tighter situation than I have seen in my career."

He is worried about the recovery of the NHS generally, as they have had to stop a lot of treatments and diagnostics, and waiting times will be longer than they have ever been.

He said: "I am concerned about the long-term effects of Covid on the patients who don't have Covid - as that will be worrying."

Mr Hulme urged people that we must "get back to lockdown mentality" and make a contribution to the NHS simply by staying home. 

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