Figures presented to a board meeting of the region’s integrated care system (ICS) reveal that on 28th February, there were 267 people hospitalised with coronavirus. That was down from 368 a week earlier and a fall of almost two thirds from the 778 Covid patients in hospital beds at the end of January.
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The stats shed light on the strain that the NHS was under at the height of the latest wave – which saw over 200 more Covid patients in hospital in the region than at the peak of the first wave last spring.
Kevin McGee, chief executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, paid tribute to how different parts of the patch had used a system of mutual aid to ensure that, collectively, they retained sufficient capacity for the minority of the Covid patient total who required critical care.
“The way the hospitals have worked together and supported one another…has been exemplary. There have been times when I think all of our acute hospitals have been under immense pressure on critical care and have been supported through the other hospitals,” Mr. McGee said.
He added that the number of Covid patients in critical care had declined to around 40, but that the facilities remained a “pinch point”.
That is because hospitals across the region are now attempting to fully restore their “P2” [priority 2] work for non-Covid patients in need of some of the most urgent pre-planned treatment. As a result, the overall number of critical care patients has risen over the past week to stand at just over 100.
At the same time, NHS trusts are de-escalating their critical capacity from the so-called “super, super surge capacity” that was reached in January – and which saw Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, increase its critical care beds from 28 to 44.
Critical care capacity across the region remains at 125 percent of the normal base level.
“There is quite a delicate balancing act that we need to do – by keeping some critical care capacity for Covid patients [and] by increasing the number of patients that we undertake from a P2 perspective,” said Mr. McGee.
He added that the process of “flipping” hospitals back to their “general use” posed an operational challenge, while wards previously used for Covid patients were taken out of action for cleaning.
Earlier this week, Lancashire’s director of public health, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, warned that stubbornly high rates of infection in parts of Lancashire – which remains above the national Covid case rate average – meant that people needed to “stay awake and be patient” when it came to the ongoing threat to the region from Covid-19.