N&N bosses: 'People were sensible at Christmas, but lockdown must continue'
- Credit: BRITTANY WOODMAN/NNUH
Hospital bosses have praised the people of Norfolk for being "sensible" over Christmas, amid fears the easing of restrictions would trigger a Covid surge.
They also said the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital was at last seeing reduced Covid admissions and fewer people in hospital with the condition - down from 350 to 311 in a few days.
But, in a wide-ranging interview, NNUH chief executive Sam Higginson and chief medical officer Prof Erika Denton were emphatic that "lockdown must continue".
As of Wednesday morning, there are 201 Covid positive patients and 110 people recovering at NNUH after having the virus.
Of those, 49 people are receiving treatment in the hospital's critical care unit.
Mr Higginson said: "We are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Our two biggest concerns are just the scale of the challenge we faced this time around and the numbers are coming down quite slowly.
"We are still under a lot of pressure and it's really a plea to the public to maintain all of the social distancing, all of the masks, all of things we are asking people to do - please do not let your guard down."
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At the peak of the virus's first wave in April the hospital was treating 87 people: in the middle of January it was more than 350.
Prof Denton said the message of hands, face, space was so much more important in this wave than in wave one due to more rapid transmission of the virus.
She said; "The people we are admitting, the numbers that are very sick who need critical care, oxygen, ventilation, has not declined.
"Of course the Norfolk and Norwich is a surge centre. We support other hospitals and it's a similar pattern elsewhere: the number of people sick enough needing admissions is slowing down.
"That's why it is so important that the lockdown continues, with particularly pubs, restaurants, parties, family gatherings."
She added: "That's no criticism of anybody. It's a natural thing that people are fed up with not being back to normal yet.
"It's so important to reduce the death rate and to reduce how many people are sick and how many people sadly get long Covid, for us to continue with the measures we have in place."
She said: "I don't think any of us can expect normal life to return in a matter of months, it isn't going to I'm afraid.
"It isn't about somehow controlling people, this is about keeping people safe."
The government relaxed lockdown rules on Christmas Day last year, to allow loved ones to meet inside homes. And, despite fears it would send Covid rates spiralling, Prof Denton said: "It appears that Christmas didn't have a very big impact if you look at data in Norfolk and nationally.
"People were very sensible and by and large, the public are being very sensible.
"People are trying their absolute hardest but it gets tougher as the weeks go by.
"It's an important message that we need people to carry on and keep going. Keep having conversations with family over the internet or by phone - there will be a time you can meet everybody again, but it isn't just yet."
This wave has also been worse for staff sickness with a number of staff falling quite sick. The chief medical officer confirmed the death of a SERCO member of staff.
She said: "We have very tragically lost a member of staff to Covid who worked through SERCO which is very very sad for the team, who had been an employee with us and a friend of many.
"Like at most hospitals, everybody has a very sad story to tell. The sickness has been hugely challenging for us."
To cope with rising patient numbers the hospital has opened a 100-bed ward, reduced elective surgery and implemented a virtual ward which allows patients not requiring urgent hospital treatment to be monitored from home.
Critical care capacity has been increased from 20 beds to 80.
Mr Higginson said: "We have had to increase our critical care capacity by two-and-a-half-times partly because of how sick people have been but also because we have been supporting other parts of the region with critical care transfers.
"If you walk round today you will see our outpatient areas very empty because we have needed those staff to redeploy them on the wards and similarly we have scaled back some of our services to redeploy staff.
"The shape of the hospital looks very different to what it did 12 months ago."