Accident and Emergency wards across Essex and Suffolk are seeing an increase in patients compared to figures from last year – when the country was still in the grip of the Covid pandemic.

According to the latest NHS figures, 24,000 patients visited A&E at East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) hospitals in September.

This was a 3,073 increase from the number of patients recorded in August, and an increase of 7,035 patients recorded in September 2020.

But these statistics mirror the nationwide trend, where A&E departments are seeing an increase in admissions compared to last year.

Whereas September 2020 saw 1.7m people go to A&E across Britain, September this year saw 2.1m people attend A&E wards.

The statistics are a cause for concern for NHS hospitals, which are expecting to see an increase in flu cases this winter after lockdown restrictions reduced immunity levels.

When asked how ESNEFT hospitals are going to cope with increased demand over the coming months, an NHS spokeswoman said the hospitals across north Essex and Suffolk are well-prepared.

She said: “We expect demand to be high on our emergency and urgent services this winter and have plans in place to cope.

“People must come to hospital if they are very unwell and need urgent or emergency care, but the best way our communities can support the NHS is to use services appropriately.

“If it’s not an emergency, visit first.”

She added that hospitals within the trust will also have increased staff levels to withstand more pressure on the NHS.

“We are creating a further ward space at Ipswich Hospital and continue to use all our wards flexibly and safely.

“Recruitment continues to strengthen our workforce and we are investing millions of pounds at our hospitals,” she added.

Encouragingly, the number of hospital beds being taken up by Covid patients is very low across the trust, with 39 patients currently hospitalised as a result of Covid across ESNEFT hospitals – well down on the highest reported figure of 550 in January earlier this year.