Fears are growing that a combination of resurgent Covid-19 and flu could bring the health service to its knees this year.
And it has prompted a plea from chiefs for the public to voluntarily stick with measures which could help keep the pandemic at bay.
“We need to keep reminding everybody that the restrictions haven’t stopped – we’re now talking about personal responsibility,” said Dr Simon Eaton, of Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust.
“People are right to move their chairs and separate themselves out, or say they’re not comfortable going to watch the new James Bond film at the weekend or that they want to still wear their mask in the Co-op.
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“We need to protect those people from ridicule because they’re right and the people just carrying on as before and all sitting together in the pub is really scary.
“Our biggest challenge is thinking about Christmas parties, everyone needs a bit of a celebration, but we also need to protect against whole shifts going off at the same time.”
Dr Eaton was speaking at Northumberland County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee, where he outlined measures intended to keep hospitals working over the coming months.
As well as refurbishments at the trust’s sites in Alnwick and Berwick to ensure whole wards do not have to be shut down in the event of a Covid outbreak, plans have also been drawn up to ensure patients spend as little time in hospital as possible.
Alyson Raine, deputy director responsible for community hospitals at the trust, said: “One of the reasons flu was good last year was because we were really good at wearing masks and washing our hands, so our message this year is to continue doing that.
“That’s why in the hospital environments in particular we are really enforcing the rule on wearing a mask and washing hands, because there’s nothing which prevents flu better than doing that.
“The vaccine is a second stop to that, so our message is do [those things] and hopefully flu won’t be as bad.”