Doctors and paramedics say they are bracing themselves for a new tide of Covid patients to hit Greater Manchester’s hospitals within weeks.
Speaking as plans for the region’s move to Tier 4 were announced and the return to school for secondary pupils was delayed, Dr Carole Gavin, a consultant in Greater Manchester, said concerns were growing as hospitals in the south battle to find beds as infection rates – largely found to be caused by the new mutant strain – rise.
The largest-scale vaccination programme in British history is now underway, but medics know that for many it hasn’t come in time for the potential repercussions of Christmas mixing.
Dr Gavin told the Manchester Evening News : “I’m talking to colleagues down south who are feeling like the system is rapidly becoming overwhelmed and has reached full capacity.
“It is my concern that’s going to be us in a month.”
In Greater Manchester, infection rates are continuing to rise in nine out of the 10 boroughs.
Get the latest updates from across Greater Manchester direct to your inbox with the free MEN newsletter
You can sign up very simply by following the instructions here
Describing Covid hospital cases as ‘slowing increasing’, Dr Gavin added: “We are expecting the massive increase to come a bit later, three or four weeks after London. It will be a combination of the new variant that spreads up to the rest of the country and the increase based on people mixing over Christmas.
“It’s usually about 10 days from getting it to becoming really ill so we expect to see that increase in a couple of weeks.
A mural tribute to a nurse by Johannah Churchill on High Street in Manchester
“It’s a concern. Crowding and lack of bed capacity haven’t improved so we will be dealing with increased numbers of Covid but also the winter pressures and inadequate bed capacity. We will also have to maintain social distancing and separation of patients with and without Covid.
“We are not looking forward to it.
“It’s just a feeling of concern that we are struggling with capacity as it is and any increase in demand is going to make that worse.”
She said they were ‘hopeful’ the vaccine might start to protect the most vulnerable patients and staff, reducing absence among colleagues.
Dr Gavin, who is also vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, emphasises that those who need hospital care should not be deterred – but called for people to be ‘cautious’ to avoid infection, adding: “We would support people following the hands, face and distance advice and for the public to realise that it’s not about them as an individual who is happy to take a risk by meeting people.
“It’s not just you – it’s the whole society really and that decision could implicate other people.”
She added: “I just want to encourage the public to pay attention to guidance. Everyone is tired and fed up and don’t trust the government but at the end of the day it’s the behaviour that will keep us safe and hopefully reduce the numbers we are seeing.
The Prime Minister during a recent media briefing
Dr Gavin has spoken previously about capacity pressures in emergency departments – and the dangers of corridor care, including the difficulties it raises for infection control.
She added: “It think the government needs to be thinking about priorities in the NHS and where we are putting our resources in terms of beds and capacity.
“Ambulances queuing is also a problem because if they can’t offload people they can’t get out again.
“Hospitals can request diverts to other A&E departments but that just moves the problem on.”
Paramedics say they are also starting to see a marked increase in Covid cases.
A North West Ambulance paramedic who asked not to be named told the Manchester Evening News : “There has definitely been an increase in cases in the patients we are seeing.
“I think it’s going up worse that is has before.
“It’s not as bad as London now, but we are getting to the point where I don’t know how much longer hospitals can manage.
“We are starting to rack and stack a lot more than we were doing in terms of queuing. I think Covid is going to start blocking the wards like it has in London.
“I have to say that North West Ambulance is doing all it can to alleviate the problems.”