Hospitals are still treating more Covid patients than peak of first wave
- Credit: Brittany Woodman/Sonya Duncan
The number of coronavirus patients in Norfolk hospitals is still higher than last year’s spring peak, suggesting an easing of the lockdown is several weeks away.
Nationally, doctors are now treating fewer Covid patients than they were during the height of the first wave.
That has added to pressure on the government to lift lockdown restrictions sooner.
But Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents hospitals, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week, warning: "Each time those arguing for a rapid relaxation were wrong and we had to reimpose restrictions, losing unnecessary lives and causing unnecessary long term patient and public harm in the process.
"We are therefore calling on the government to resist pressure to loosen restrictions without associated evidence that it is reasonably safe to do so."
Mr Johnson is due to outline on Monday how fast lockdown will lift in England.
NHS figures show 20,156 beds across the country were taken up by virus patients on February 16, which is just below the 21,000 during the peak of the pandemic in April 2020.
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But although they have been falling, numbers in Norfolk have yet to dip below last year’s high-water mark.
The data shows there were 315 Covid patients in beds across all hospitals in Norfolk on February 16, a big improvement on the record high of 758 virus patients on January 15, but still 25pc higher than the peak in the first wave of 249 on May 3.
The hospital with the most virus patients was the Queen Elizabeth (QEH) in King's Lynn, with 121 – 23pc of its total capacity.
There were also 93 virus patients in beds at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and 65 at the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH), making up 9pc and 15pc of all patients respectively.
The Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust (NCHCT) recorded 36 Covid patients in beds, while the West Suffolk Hospital had 26, down from 47 the week before.
However, the good news is that admissions of new Covid patients have fallen below last year’s record.
The latest data shows 26 patients were admitted with the virus on February 14, down from a new year peak of 118 on January 12 and almost half the peak on 50 seen on April 6.
Of those, 10 were at the QEH, eight at the JPUH and seven at the NNUH, with just one admitted to the NCHCT.
That suggests that the figures on Covid patients in hospital should drop below last year’s peak in the coming weeks.
And the number of patients on mechanical ventilator beds in Norfolk has also finally fallen back to levels seen in the first wave.
There were 26 patients on ventilators on February 16. Five of these were at the JPUH, while the NNUH and the QEH had 17 and four patients, respectively.
Norfolk’s public health chief Dr Louise Smith previously said the falling numbers were cause for optimism.
"Deaths in hospitals are now coming down, while the lengths of stays in intensive care units is getting longer,” she said.
"We are also seeing the number of outbreaks in care homes coming down and that will be associated with a reduction in the number of deaths."
In a joint statement a spokesperson for Norfolk's hospitals said: “Covid-19 hospital admissions in Norfolk and Waveney are continuing to fall, thanks to everyone’s efforts in helping to slow the spread. However, we mustn’t be complacent and it is really important that we continue to follow the national rules and hands, face, space guidance to ensure infection rates continue to fall, and take up the vaccine when invited.”
Experts have pointed to the vaccine being responsible for the overall fall in hospitalisations and admissions.
Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said "everything's moving in the right direction" when it comes to the impact of vaccines on the pandemic.
His comments were echoed by Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London and a key figure in ensuring the UK went into lockdown last March, who said that while it was still "early days", a figure of two-thirds efficacy from a single dose of a vaccine was "not too far off".
Public Health England (PHE) is due to publish data which shows the effectiveness of the current vaccination programme.
Norfolk’s hospitals are continuing to see high demand for beds, with 90pc occupied at the JPUH. At the NNUH, 89pc of beds are occupied, while 87pc are taken at the QEH.
The hospitals have been contacted for comment.
Our maps below show the pressure hospitals are under in the region.