Hospitals bar visitors as NHS battles highest number of patients since February

UK hospitals have started barring visitors in a desperate bid to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The NHS is under huge strain from the Omicron surge – with Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitting last night that the health service is on a ‘war footing’.

Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust are among those to stop visitors in all but the most extreme cases in their hospitals.

Similar decisions, now being taken by various local NHS chiefs, aim to reduce infection rates among staff and patients, with care already being compromised in certain parts of the country.

The number of people in hospital with coronavirus is now at its highest since February last year, according to the latest figures, while more than 20 NHS trusts have declared critical incidents.

That pressure has resulted in various others trusts across the country, including in York, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham, banning almost all visitors in recent days.

It means some family and friends will now only be able to contact sick loved ones by video link, phone calls or by writing letters.

A total of 17,276 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 4, Government figures show, up 59% week-on-week.

During the second wave of coronavirus, the numbers in hospital peaked at 39,254 on January 18 2021.

There were 2,258 Covid-19 hospital admissions on December 28, the latest UK-wide figure available, up 83% week on week and the highest number since February 3.

Admissions during the second wave peaked at 4,583 on January 12 2021.

In the Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said hospital admissions were ‘doubling around every nine days’ – but he has repeatedly refused to introduce a new Covid crackdown.

Mr Johnson says the majority of those seriously ill in hospital have not been vaccinated.

Care and resources are being given to them at a time when the health service normally comes under significant strain from seasonal winter pressures.

But coupled with Omicron-fuelled sickness and absence that has left the health service ‘stretched like never before’, according to Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers.

The University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust and the North Bristol NHS Trust, which run hospitals including the Bristol Royal Infirmary, the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and Southmead, said they were at their ‘highest state of alert’.

The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) said it asked patients with ‘potentially non-life-threatening’ calls to be taken to hospital by a relative if an ambulance was delayed over the bank holiday weekend.

Morecambe Bay NHS Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust were also among those declaring critical incidents.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: ‘I think my understanding on critical incidents, obviously the numbers do vary… it’s worth understanding that critical incidents can last, in some certain circumstances, a matter of hours, a morning or afternoon, a day, some of them can last longer than that.

‘So they’re not a good indicator necessarily of how the NHS is performing.’

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