THERE are now three times more coronavirus patients at the trust which runs Colchester Hospital than there were during April’s peak of the virus.

As of Friday there were 430 patients with Covid-19 at both Colchester and Ipswich hospitals. In April, the highest this number reached was 143.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Trust, said both Colchester and Ipswich hospitals were full.

“When you look at our capacity at the moment, 90 per cent of the time we are at capacity,” he said.

“Capacity is a very difficult thing to talk about because people are always being admitted and discharged all of the time.

“We normally use the measure of how full we are at midnight.

“Capacity does become available but often the number of patients we are discharging is equal to the number of patients we admit.

“We are at max capacity but it is still safe for people to attend. People who are seriously ill should still come to the hospital.

“We are at max capacity in intensive care too. We have already doubled its capacity but if we have to expand it more we have a contingency plan if that is required.”

During the first peak the hospital had 33 patients in intensive care with Covid. On Friday there were 51.

Mr Hulme warned the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“We have admitted up to 50 Covid patients in one day at Colchester,” he said.

“When I look at the prevalence in the community then the numbers are increasing every single day. I expect we will see at least two or three weeks of growth.”

The trust has now been forced to stop all but the most important elective care, with only urgent surgery and cancer work is continuing.

And Mr Hulme has warned long waiting lists were inevitable once the crisis was over.

“It is difficult to predict how bad the waiting lists will be,” he said.

“In the summer we bounced back quickly and we were doing over 100 per cent of our elective care.

"But there is no doubt that waiting times will stretch out quite significantly.

“We are contacting patients every day to check on them and keep them updated.

”We cannot give patients a new date for their operations at the moment as it would disingenuous for us to do that when it may end up being cancelled again.”

Those in need of urgent medical attention should still attend hospital, but Mr Hulme said footfall needed to be reduced as much as possible.

He said: “It is regrettable we have had to cancel visits except for compassionate reasons.

"It is at the point where unless it is a medical emergency or you are invited in to the hospital you should be staying away.”