Blackpool Vic's medical director describes 'difficult picture' - with more Covid patients in hospital and 25 dead in past week
Around a third of hospital beds on the Fylde coast are now occupied by Covid patients - with operations and appointments axed so medics can care for an expanded intensive care unit.
Dr Jim Gardner, medical director at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and Clifton Hospital in St Annes, said 255 of 650 beds are now filled by patients who are either within 14 days of a positive test (152 people, up from 135 last week) or still in hospital because of Covid (103).
In the past week, some 25 patients have died within 28 days of testing positive for the disease, he said, with the official death toll standing at 605.
Speaking at his weekly coronavirus briefing today, Dr Gardner said: "Those deaths may be with Covid or of Covid - Covid may be part of the situation - and I send my condolences to everyone impacted.
"I'm really sorry about the situation. It's so difficult for families at the moment because of our restrictions on visiting, but I'm sure you understand why we have to do that.
"For patients who are poorly or maybe nearing the end of life, the ward staff do all they can to make sure communication can occur through smartphones and so forth and, under exceptional circumstances, will allow some visiting.
"Contact with the ward is encouraged to make sure that interaction is taking place."
Dr Gardner said the Vic, in Whinney Heys Road, normally has 16 intensive care beds, but that a 'super surge' plan has seen that number boosted to 28.
He said: "In order to do that, we have to move staff from other areas to make sure our critical care capacity is safe. That links to the fact that, inevitable, we are having to stand down some elective work to make way.
"As much as possible we are trying to keep elective work going and our urgent cancer work is being pushed through the system, but I'm sorry to say some people will be having procedures cancelled.
"We don't like to do that. We are very sorry about it. But I'm sure you will understand the reasons why we need to do it at this stage."
The infection rate in the community has risen over the past week, Dr Gardner said, citing figures per 100,000 people of 343 for Blackpool, up from 262, 323 for Fylde, up from 256, and 444 for Wyre, up from 335.
He said: "You will see that's a steady increase and continues to be very, very worrying."
More than 6,000 people have so far been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab at the Vic - a rate of around 1,000 a week - Dr Gardner said, with GP practices, some pharmacies, and other places offering the easier-to-administer AstraZenica/Oxford jab.
Meanwhile, Vic chief executive Kevin McGee said in a radio interview medics are tired and frustrated -- and need people to show their support by following the lockdown rules.
Mr McGee, who is also in charge of the Clifton Hospital in St Annes and two hospitals in Blackburn and Burnley, said: "I cannot over exaggerate how pressurised our hospitals are at this point.
"At the worst point in the pandemic before Christmas, we had 650 Covid-19 patients in our hospitals across Lancashire and South Cumbria.
"We have now got 730 and that number is increasing daily.
"We are seeing the most pressure on Critical Care, where the number of beds for patients who need the highest level of clinical intervention are extremely tight now.
“Whilst our numbers have been tracking below London up to this point, our community infections are now increasing.
"I don’t think we have reached the peak in the north west or in Lancashire yet and if these numbers continue to grow, we will be in a very grave place.
“As community rates rise, our staff sickness levels also increased because our staff live in our communities so they are more vulnerable.
"Our staff are also extremely tired, anxious and frustrated.
"They are tired because they have been working at this now for nearly a year and dealing with the pandemic, they are anxious because of what is going to happen over the next few weeks, and they are frustrated when they see people denying that we even have a problem and not following the rules and the guidance."
Mr McGee continued: "I can assure everybody that we have a significant problem and our hospitals are under severe pressure.
“Of course, we are always busy, especially at this time of year, and the 700 beds occupied by really poorly Covid patients that I have already mentioned are in addition to this. That level of additional strain on a system that is already pressurised is extreme.
“To try and ease this, we are pushing on and trying to vaccinate our staff as quickly as possible. We have made good progress for staff, nursing home staff and patients and for the over 80s. So we are really kicking on with the vaccination and are hopeful to have all staff vaccinated within the next four to five weeks.
“In the first wave of the pandemic, we did stand down quite a lot of routine, non-urgent activity.
"We have since tried to reinstate and keep as much of this going as much as possible but there will come a point where we have to stand down more routine work.
"We have plans in place to give us enough beds if the numbers continue to rise, but our rate limiting factor will always come back to staff.
"And our staff, as I have already mentioned, are incredibly tired; there are high sickness rates and we only have a limited amount we can stretch.
"So, there will be some difficult choices about what activity that we will have to stand down if the numbers continue to increase.
“The single one thing that the community can do to help us give them the treatment they need is to stay at home.
"The more we can reduce the interaction between groups and individuals, the better it will be.
"If you do have to go out, please follow the social distancing guidance, always wear a mask and wash hands very regularly.
"But I think we are at a point now where we have to say to people, 'If you can, please stay home.'
“To quote Professor Chris Whitty, 'This is everybody’s problem’.”
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