N&N could help as Covid cases trigger 'major incident' in Essex

Latest NHS figures show there were 45 people with Covid-19 occupying beds at Norfolk and Norwich Uni

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is a regional surge centre for coronavirus patients. - Credit: Evening News © 2009

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital could be asked to ease pressure on hospitals in Essex, after the number of coronavirus cases there led to a 'major incident' being declared.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has been named as a 'surge' hospital - which means it can be asked to ease pressure on hospitals across the East of England, including those in Essex.

Local authorities in Essex have declared a "major incident" as the number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm health services in the county.

Hospitals across England have warned of increasing strains on services due to Covid-19 patient numbers, which have reached their highest levels during the pandemic, while 51,135 further cases and 414 deaths were reported on Tuesday.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital was named as 'a regional surge centre' earlier this year, with extra beds made available for the sickest patients with coronavirus.

The number of people who have died at Norfolk's hospitals after contracting coronavirus has now passed 600.

It comes as more areas in England are set to follow Norfolk and Suffolk in being placed under the country's toughest coronavirus restrictions.

Norfolk and Suffolk moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4 on Boxing Day and pressure is mounting on the government to put other areas under tougher restrictions, with health secretary Matt Hancock due to make an announcement in the Commons today.

Heath Secretary Matt Hancock speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Photo: House of Common/PA Wire

Health secretary Matt Hancock. - Credit: PA

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Ambulances were seen queueing outside hospitals including the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and Queen's Hospital in Romford, both in east London, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, om Tuesday, and a junior doctor in the capital said his his hospital was "aggressively overstretched" by Covid-19 patients.

Prime minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the government's Covid-19 Operations committee on Tuesday evening, when changes to the tier system were discussed.

With case rates rising in all regions of England, as well as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, any review is likely to involve areas moving up a tier rather than down.

Areas that may be moved from Tier 3 to Tier 4 due to increasing case rates include parts of the East Midlands, such as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, as well as all areas of the West Midlands metropolitan county.

Hartlepool in north-east England, along with a handful of areas in Lancashire - Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle and Ribble Valley -  could also be upgraded from Tier 3 to 4.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, warned "options were narrowing" and that moving areas into the highest tier was necessary.

"Pressures on the NHS in some parts of the country are rising at an unsustainable rate," she said

"Thankfully, trusts in other areas have been helping out. But with the virus spreading fast alongside mounting winter pressures, the options are narrowing.

"We urgently need to get ahead of the outbreak. The Covid-19 tier review offers an opportunity to do that.

"It will require difficult decisions, moving millions more people to the highest level.

"The government must act with boldness, speed and clarity in curbing the threat of Covid-19."

Figures from NHS England showed there were 21,787 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am on Tuesday, compared with 20,426 on Monday, and 18,974 at the first wave peak on April 12.

Five of the seven NHS regions in England are currently reporting a record number of Covid-19 hospital patients: Eastern England, London, the Midlands, south-east England and south-west England.

The other two regions, north-east and north-west England, remain below peak levels that were set in mid-November.

Meanwhile the number of further lab-confirmed cases recorded in a single day in the UK hit a new record on Tuesday, rising above 50,000 for the first time, to 53,135.

It is not possible to make direct comparisons with the level of infection during the first wave of the virus, because mass testing was only introduced in the UK in May, but it has been estimated there may have been as many 100,000 cases a day at the peak in late March and early April.

The government said a further 414 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 71,567.

One senior doctor said some trusts in London and the South East are considering the option of setting up tents outside hospitals - something normally reserved for sudden events such as terror attacks or industrial disasters - to triage patients.

Dr Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser for Public Health England, said the "unprecedented levels" of Covid-19 infection across the UK was of "extreme concern".

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