A hospital has now squeezed eight beds onto wards meant for six, as its number of Covid patients hits more than hundred for the first time since last winter.

Just over 100 people with coronavirus were being treated by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), as of Thursday.

The last time figures were this high was February 14 last year.

Those in hospitals are needing less intensive treatment than previous Covid waves, with only one patient on a ventilator at the NNUH. But the numbers needing medical help mean almost three wards are taken up by Covid patients. Nationally the number of people with Covid in hospital has soared by 58pc in a week.

The sharp increase has meant less space and fewer staff available for non-Covid patients. One woman said their six-bed bay had eight beds squashed into it on Wednesday evening, with the curtains removed.

Photos published by this newspaper on Thursday also showed no screen or curtains between beds, with patients just 90cm apart.

Eastern Daily Press: One patient took this photo of her bed at the NNUH in a ward where extra beds are being squeezed in to increase capacityOne patient took this photo of her bed at the NNUH in a ward where extra beds are being squeezed in to increase capacity (Image: Submitted)

Nadine Parke, from Wymondham, who has been in the hospital since Sunday, said they had been “packed in like sardines”.

“We have had our stress levels put through the roof which is making the atmosphere very tense,” the 45-year old said. “It is disgraceful and puts unacceptable pressure on the poor staff and patients concerned who are waiting to be treated.

“We have no privacy as nothing has been put in place to replace the now useless bay privacy curtains. At night you can hardly sleep."

Alex Stewart, chief executive of patient group Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "These measures should only be in place for the least amount of time possible. There are very real issues around bedspace now and we appreciate hospital managers are having to make difficult decisions."

He added: "It is important that patients feel safe, and they need to be reassured that everything is being done to keep wards ventilated and as safe as they can be.

"Confidentiality also needs to be maintained and all patients should be able to discuss their conditions and concerns with medical staff in a quiet area without being overheard by people in neighbouring beds."

Eastern Daily Press: Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAlex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY (Image: Healthwatch Norfolk)

Professor Nancy Fontaine, NNUH chief nurse, said: "We are sorry to our patients who are in this situation and to our staff who are caring for more patients on our wards.

"This is a short-term response as a result of our current alert status and teams are working very hard with our health and social care partners to support timely discharge of our patients in order to return our wards to their usual capacity."

Eastern Daily Press: NNUH chief nurse, Professor Nancy FontaineNNUH chief nurse, Professor Nancy Fontaine (Image: Archant)

The hospital said that while many bays had one extra bed squeezed in, two wards had two extra beds put in and this was only done on Wednesday night.

On December 29 the NHS in Norfolk and Waveney declared a “critical incident”, although they did not make this public for a week. It means that it is at full capacity and there is an increased risk of patients being harmed.

The NHS is meant to be focusing on the huge backlogs of patients waiting for treatment, which built up during the pandemic when services were suspended. However, it is once again having to cancel procedures to focus on treating Covid patients.

The current crisis appears to be driven by staff shortages rather than a lack of beds or space. Latest figures on staff absences are due out on Friday, but as of Boxing Day more than 1,000 workers at Norfolk’s three hospitals were off sick.

MPs warned the government on Thursday that to fix the NHS they needed to sort staffing problems first. The government said it had put in an extra £5.9bn to tackle long waiting lists.

See also:

Hospital takes 'extreme measures' to cope with pressure

Norfolk's NHS declares a critical incident - what does it mean for you?