North East hospitals warn of bed shortages and winter deaths amid 'rapidly rising' covid admissions

A Covid-19 testing centreA Covid-19 testing centre
A Covid-19 testing centre
North East hospital bosses have warned of bed shortages and more deaths this winter unless a spike in Covid infection rates can be reversed.

Health chiefs from across the region say that they are having to deal with “rapidly rising” numbers of coronavirus-related hospital admissions and that the trend is likely to continue for some time.

In a stern statement issued on Wednesday lunchtime, they made grave predictions of the strain that struggling local NHS facilities will face in the coming weeks – after seeing Covid case numbers escalate during the first two weeks of the national lockdown.

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They have urged people to avoid going to A&E other than in serious or life-threatening cases and to take responsibility for stopping the virus’ spread to prevent hospitals from being completely overwhelmed as Christmas approaches.

The statement read: “Over the past few weeks, we have seen cases in our communities increasing and, as a result, hospital admissions are rising rapidly. Unfortunately, this is a trend we are likely to see continue going into winter.

“Our local hospitals are appealing to the public to only attend A&E if they have serious or life-threatening emergencies.

“We have learnt so much about Covid and how to treat it, but the virus remains a potent threat.

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“The more Covid positive patients in hospital, the fewer beds and staff we have to treat other people. Inevitably this leads to worse outcomes, including, sadly, excess deaths.

“The current lockdown is due to end on December 2 and what lies beyond that is unknown territory.

“It is just 14 days away, so we all need to continue reducing social contact and following the rules.

“We need to all remember why we are doing this. It is about saving lives and protecting the NHS to ensure it is not over run and able to cope with the demands on our services. We need your support to ensure that all our services remain open and safe.

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“Our critical care units must be kept as free as possible to deal with those people who need it most for example, road traffic accidents, strokes and severe respiratory illnesses, just three examples.”

The North East went into the four-week lockdown as the only part of the country where the number of new Covid cases was flattening, but numbers have risen across the region in the past fortnight.

That trend has been blamed on a flurry of activity in the days before lockdown began as people flocked to shops and pubs.

The health chiefs’ statement added: “What is equally important to remember is that the solutions sit with all of us, regardless of who you are and what you do. Very simple actions will ensure our NHS copes but also keeps you personally safe from infection. We all have a responsibility to minimise the risk of infection.

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“If we do get infected, we all have a responsibility not to pass this on – especially to our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, indeed anyone in our family, or our friends and neighbours.

“News on vaccinations is encouraging but we are still a long way off from any one of them being administered as an effective defence.

“For now, following the rules – hands, face, space, is the best defence we have. We cannot urge people enough to please adhere to the guidance of Hands (wash very regularly), Face (wear a facemask – but please wear over nose and mouth), Space (social distance at all time – two metres).

“Those who have symptoms must get a test, self-isolate until they get the result and if positive continue to self-isolate for the full 14 days.

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“Those contacted through NHS Test and Trace must also get a test and self-isolate if requested to do so – there is no short cut out of this. Support is available for people to self-isolate and is detailed on our council websites.

“If we don’t adhere to the restrictions, we are likely to see a further rise in infection rates, increased hospitalisations and sadly deaths.

“This is our responsibility and in a typical North East fashion, we know we can all pull together to get us through these difficult times. Thank You.”

The statement was issued by the chief executives of NHS Foundation Trusts for Newcastle Hospitals, Northumbria Healthcare, South Tyneside and Sunderland, Gateshead, County Durham and Darlington, the North East Ambulance Service, Cumbria Northumberland Tyne and Wear Mental Health, and North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System Development.

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It was also endorsed by local council leaders, the North of Tyne Mayor, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, and the area’s Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

Here are the latest Covid rates for the seven North East council areas, calculated by the PA news agency based on Public Health England data:

From left to right, it reads: name of local authority; rate of new cases in the seven days to November 13; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to November 13; rate of new cases in the seven days to November 6; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to November 6.

Newcastle upon Tyne 451.4 (1367), 370.8 (1123)

North Tyneside 431.9 (898), 330.4 (687)

Gateshead 429.6 (868), 440.0 (889)

South Tyneside 425.9 (643), 329.9 (498)

Sunderland 423.5 (1176), 365.1 (1014

County Durham 412.2 (2185), 350.7 (1859)

Northumberland 299.6 (966), 231.7 (747)