Wigan's hospitals very busy as coronavirus cases soar

Wigan’s hospitals are under pressure and beds are full amid a significant increase in the number of patients with coronavirus.

Cases of Covid-19 are rising across the country, with 5,726 patients in England testing positive on June 20, up 24 per cent on the previous week, Government figures show.

The rise is having an impact at Wigan Infirmary and the other hospitals run by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL).

Dr Sanjay Arya, consultant cardiologist and medical director at the trust, said: “As much as we would love Covid to have gone away, it is coming back. Covid cases are rising significantly. The numbers are not as bad as before, but in the last two weeks, we have seen a 60 to 70 per cent rise in the number of Covid cases.

Wigan Infirmary

"It is not just rising in the patients who are admitted to the hospital, but also rising in the borough. Covid cases are rising in Greater Manchester as well. Clearly it’s rising in the country, it’s rising everywhere.”

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He said the current strain of coronavirus is “not as virulent” as previous strains and fewer people need critical care or ventilators, but they are becoming ill enough to require hospital treatment.

Among those becoming unwell are older people and those who are unvaccinated, serving as a reminder for people to get the jab and boosters.

Dr Sanjay Arya

Dr Arya said: “These are the two groups that we need to urge to take care. If you have not had vaccines – Covid hasn’t gone away – therefore please put yourself forward for the vaccine or booster dose.

"There is no doubt that people who have had vaccines have lesser symptoms and reduced hospital admissions.”

There are fears that the actual number of people with coronavirus is much larger than recorded, as testing in the community has been scaled back and rules about wearing masks and isolating have been officially scrapped in recent months.

The rising number of cases comes as the NHS tries to treat the backlog of patients whose care was delayed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is having an impact across the hospitals, not just on the wards where Covid-19 patients are treated.

Dr Arya said: “It’s unfortunately once again putting pressures on the hospital services. Our bed occupancy is at 100 per cent, with all our beds occupied by patients. Our bed occupancy continues to remain high.

"Usually up to 85 per cent of bed occupancy is a safe level and beyond that is a matter of concern. Nearly all of the hospitals in Greater Manchester have a bed occupancy of more than 85 per cent.

"In Wigan our staff are working hard to ensure that patient safety is maintained at all times, despite high bed occupancy, but clearly it’s having an impact on staff well-being.”

He said rates of staff sickness were increasing alongside the rise in coronavirus cases.

Despite the pressure on beds, efforts are still being made to treat the patients whose care was delayed due to the pandemic.

Dr Arya said: “We are doing our best to ensure that our elective recovery programme continues to march ahead and we are continuing to treat patients who have not had their treatment for a long period of time, depending on clinical prioritisation. Clinicians are looking at patients on the waiting list, seeing who now needs urgent surgery and bringing their appointments forward. We don’t want to cause harm to any of our patients.

"This is putting additional pressures on the clinicians because this is additional work. Previously we have just done the procedure, but now we have to find time to clinically prioritise these patients and then do the procedure.”

Hospital staff are working to free up beds so more patients can be treated, both new patients and those on the waiting list.

Dr Arya said: “We have got a significant number of patients who are medically fit to go home, but unfortunately they are still in hospital. Hospital is not the best place to recover if doctors think you are fit to go home. It avoids hospital-acquired infections, it improves mobility, it improves appetite and it improves general well-being.

"Wigan is a leader in virtual wards. Many of the patients can go home to get support from a virtual ward, where they are closely monitored by healthcare professionals remotely and there is a telephone conversation with them twice a day.”

Despite the high number of patients, Dr Arya urged people to still seek care at A&E if they have a life-threatening condition or serious illness.

But he warned that people with less serious conditions could face longer waits to be seen, with the latest NHS data showing only 59.5 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at Wigan’s A&E unit last month.

People are being asked to take care when visiting one of the hospital sites, whether as a patient or a visitor, by wearing a face mask and washing their hands to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the hospital trust has started to offer phlebotomy services online, so people can book a blood test this way rather than by phone or waiting in a queue at the Thomas Linacre Centre.

The trust is also piloting the use of artificial intelligence in two areas to treat patients in a “very modern and safe way”.

Dr Arya added: “Our staff have been working non-stop. I really want to thank all the staff at Wigan, both clinical and non-clinical staff, for working hard for the last two years to manage the pandemic and the services.

"Also a big thank you to the people of Wigan.”