HEALTH chiefs are warning that north Cumbria’s NHS services are facing their “biggest ever” challenge as Covid-19 infection rates in Carlisle rocketed to almost twice the England average.
Figures released this week expose the devastating impact of the new virus variant.
Bosses at the NHS trust which runs the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle say community infection rates are now at ‘record levels’.
Staff have risen to the challenge, say bosses.
But since the beginning of the pandemic, the trust has reported 283 Covid-19 deaths – 25 of them since Christmas Eve.
The new variant of the virus, which is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible, is now fuelling a surge of cases – particularly in Carlisle and Eden, where seven out of 10 infections are being caused by it, say public health experts.
The Cumbria Health Protection Board’s latest covid data makes for grim reading.
It reveals how:
* There were just over 2,500 new cases across Cumbria in a week – up 130 per cent on the previous seven-day tally.
* Carlisle – for the third week running – saw the sharpest rise in infections, with a weekly total of 1,013 new cases.
* The city overtook Eden in having Cumbria’s highest infection rate, with current estimates ranging from 932 per 100,000 of population to just above 1,100. The England average is 572 per 100,000.
* Carlisle, Eden and Allerdale all now have infection rates above the regional average.
* Infection rates rose across all Cumbrian districts, with the biggest increases in Barrow and Copeland – up by 248 per cent and 242 per cent respectively;
* And people aged 15-29 and 30-44 accounted for most new Cumbrian cases, followed by the 45-59 age group.
North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, which manages The Cumberland Infirmary and Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital, was this week caring for more than 200 covid patients.
“Within the hospitals we are caring for patients in excess of the numbers we have seen previously, even in the first wave,” said Dr Jon Sturman, the trust’s clinical director for intensive care.
“This means that we have to respond by continually changing the number and type of beds we have available for people who are Covid positive and ensure strict infection prevention measures are in place.
“We’re providing additional intensive care capacity on site through our business continuity plans and are able to access intensive care through the critical support network across the region.
“This has had an impact on some of our routine services however we are doing everything we can to ensure we maintain urgent and emergency treatments.”
Anna Stabler, Chief Nurse at the trust, said the staff response to the current surge in demand for care had been “phenomenal”.
“There’s been no hesitation from staff stepping in to support in areas unfamiliar to them or working over and above their normal duties,” she said.
“Many of our staff members have been redeployed into different roles as they were in the first wave, for example theatre staff delivering intensive care support, and now we also have staff redeployed into roles such as delivering the Covid vaccine to health and care workers, and people over 80.
“Many of these duties may not be as visible as others but examples have included operational managers working on our wards to support patient discharge and providing direct support to front line teams.
“Our Chaplaincy team have also provided a listening ear to support both our staff and patients, and our volunteers are taking on additional roles in supporting patients and staff.
“Staffing has been a challenge,” she said.
“Our staff members are also part of the community and some have been required to self-isolate, which has brought additional challenges right through the Christmas holidays.
“Staff have responded by working extended hours, additional shifts and have postponed planned annual leave to care for people in our communities.
“This has included midwives, health care practitioners, doctors, nurses, operational management teams and support staff across all our acute and community hospitals as well as our community staff who have also supported in local residential and nursing homes. It really has been a monumental effort, and continues to be challenging and exhausting for all of our staff across the system, and we do have support mechanisms which we are stepping up at this time.”
The trust which runs Furness General and a major hospital in Lancaster has reported 403 covid deaths.
Mrs Stabler stressed that “now more than ever” people needed to follow the lockdown guidance – stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
They should also choose NHS services wisely, only attending A&E for life-threatening conditions.