East Kent Hospitals are currently caring for double the number of covid patients compared to the first wave and, along with the other three acute hospital trusts in Kent and Medway, are appealing for people to use NHS services wisely as pressure on hospitals, ambulance service and 111 mounts.
The hospital trusts across the county have high numbers of people using A&E, South East Coast Ambulance is under a lot of pressure, and calls to 111 have risen, meaning callers are waiting longer than usual.
More critical care beds have been made available, vital cancer treatment and other urgent operations are continuing. Some other procedures may be delayed as staff are needed to support the additional critical care beds which have opened. Patients should continue to keep appointments unless they have been told not to attend.
The pressure will stay on the NHS as long as the infection rates stay high.
Wilf Williams, Accountable Officer for NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the strategic lead for the NHS response to Coronavirus in Kent and Medway, said: “The NHS is always busy at this time of year but the latest wave of Covid is putting all of our services under immense pressure. This is the hardest period we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who is working very hard to manage these challenging circumstances.
“We currently have twice the number of Covid positive patients receiving care in our hospitals than we did in the first wave.
“As Covid cases in the community have risen, the number of hospital admissions has also increased and there is pressure on all of our services. Our hospitals, ambulances, A&Es, community services, 111 and GP practices are experiencing high demand so we’re asking everyone who needs to use NHS services to do so wisely.
“We urge the public to play their part in stopping the spread of Covid-19 by staying at home as much as possible, social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands. If anyone needs urgent medical help they should call 111 first.”
NHS services in Kent and Medway are also experiencing higher rates of staff sickness due to the new strand of Covid.
Dr Rebecca Martin, Chief Medical Officer for East Kent Hospitals said: “Our staff are working incredibly hard caring for more than double the number of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus than in the first wave, and our hospitals are extremely busy.
“We are still here to help patients who need us for emergency and cancer care, but we are asking people to keep A&E for emergencies only and to call 111 for advice if they are not sure.
“If you need urgent care, NHS111 can now book a timed appointment for patients at the most appropriate service including Urgent Treatment Centres and hospital emergency departments if needed.”
Joe Garcia, South East Ambulance (SECAmb) Executive Director of Operations, said: “We are experiencing some very busy days and are working hard to respond to patients as quickly as possible. We are prioritising our response to our most seriously ill and injured patients but we are taking longer to reach some patients.
“We urge people to only call 999 in the event of a serious or life-threatening emergency and to use 111 for non-emergencies. We have also seen a high number of calls to our 111 service which is working hard to help patients. We would remind people to also make use of 111 online at 111.nhs.uk.
“If you have had to call 999 and are waiting for an ambulance, please only call us back if a patient’s condition worsens.
“We are very proud of our staff and thank them for their ongoing efforts and professionalism.”
Intensive care units at East Kent Hospitals are at capacity although the Trust is also using surge areas including theatre recovery rooms.
Currently traditional beds account for 10 at Kent & Canterbury, 15 at QEQM in Margate and 24 at WHH in Ashford, it may be. Yesterday (December 29) the Trust was at 96 per cent of traditional capacity, today the highest is 91 per cent in any of the ITUs.
Data from East Kent Hospitals (via NHS England) shows there are 374 occupied Covid beds as of December 22 at the main sites (Margate, Ashford and Canterbury). This is up from 173 on November 30. Of those 27 mechanical ventilation beds are in use, up 10 from November 30. East Kent Hospitals Trust has recorded 785 covid related deaths.