COLCHESTER Hospital’s boss told how additional intensive care beds are being provided to help cope with the anticipated increase in coronavirus cases.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said staff across the board had been working flat out to ensure the hospital can handle the anticipated pressure.

Mr Hulme confirmed there are currently about 100 confirmed cases of Covid-19 within the hospital.

To facilitate the isolation and safe treatment of cases, wards have been redesigned and temporary units built.

“Some wards which were used for one thing are re-designed to use them in another way, we have secured additional ITU beds that way,” he said.

“Although the nurses and doctors must be praised and thanked for their work, we must thank the rest of the staff too.

“Two people from the IT team stayed 36 hours without going home to set up a system to provide consultation for people in their own home using Skype.

“The porters and managers, the estate team putting up buildings and wards and doing it overnight or over a weekend.

“So many people are working exceptionally hard.”

Mr Hulme said outpatient and elective care appointments had been cancelled to ensure staff could be effectively trained.

He added: “I have been in the healthcare service for more than 40 years, it feels like they have been a training programme for this six-month period.

“For the past month we have been planning for the worst possible scenario, in terms of the number of patients we treat and the required number of ICU beds, particularly our ability to take on ICU patients.

“At the moment we are coping.

“But we know there is potential for that to increase and by significant numbers.

“We have several phases in terms of growing the ITU in capacity.

“A lot of surgeons and orthopaedic doctors are now working on wards and A and E, providing additional support and freeing up the specialist doctors.

“At the moment we are in our second phase of extending and we have four levels of expanding.”

Mr Hulme also moved to reassure the public that the hospital has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

However, Mr Hulme added one area causing concern is the availability of visors to protect workers’ eyes.

“We have sufficient PPE and I monitor this every six to eight hours, including weekends, to see whether or not we have the right equipment,” he said.

“We are talking to companies about whether we can get 3D printers to produce these visors.

“If people do have any access to simple visors, contact our website.”

Hospital staff are struggling with the removal of normal daily routines and activities which would typically alleviate stress.

“Every Friday night I would go to the pub and have one pint,” said Mr Hulme.

“I had been doing that for years and just the removal of that little bit of relaxation does have an impact on my life and the way I unwind.

“Doctors and other staff who might be used to unwinding at the gym, at the pub or anywhere else, they have lost that now.

“They are worried about their families.

“For people who still think at the moment that this is a novel thing, that we are over the worst of it, it isn’t time to relax.

“In this part of the country we haven’t seen the kind of numbers we’ve seen elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean we won’t.

“You must stay at home.

“What could be better than saving a life in such a simple way?

“Our ITU capacity is now at a significant number, we are getting towards being full across both sites, but we have that contingency plan to expand where necessary.”

Mr Hulme is worried about a recent 50 to 60 per cent reduction in the number of people visiting accident and emergency sites across Colchester and Ipswich.

“Patients are clearly making the decision to stay at home when they need hospital treatment,” he said.

“The risk is they get seriously unwell with other issues besides Covid-19. If they become acutely unwell and turn up at A and E at the same time as we see a peak in virus cases, that is a concerning prospect.

“It is safe to come to A and E when needed, we have measures in place to ensure your safety.”