"At present we're managing... I don't know how long we can manage," a matron at New Cross Hospital tells ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan as she's shown around the full wards
For a while the Omicron wave was only really affecting London hospitals. It’s not anymore.
Hospital admissions are increasing in most Northern regions and the Midlands is seeing a rise too.
At New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, Covid patients have increased from 27 to 100 in a week. Thankfully, very few have needed intensive care treatment, but all have needed a bed and staff to care for them.
This is the direct effect of Covid, impacting hospitals. As more and more Covid patients arrive, there is less room for patients with other ailments and even less for patients hoping to have a non-urgent operation they may have waited months for.
But the indirect effect of Covid is causing perhaps even greater problems for the hospital.
Staff absences, due to sickness or needing to isolate, have sky rocketed. Eleven percent of staff are off because of Covid, placing pressure on everyone else.
One nurse in the acute medical ward told me she had to call people in to work today because so many colleagues had called in sick. Everyone I spoke to today was upbeat and they all had smiles on their faces, but there was a sense of weariness and boredom at such a frustrating situation.
The hospital is also bursting at the seams. An increase in patients at A&E, either due to Covid or general winter illnesses, puts pressure on the rest of the hospital. Every patient that needs to be admitted, has to be found a bed. If there are no beds, that patient waits in A&E until there is.
Louise Eve is in control of bed management, she has three meetings a day to assess capacity in each ward and tries to juggle space to fit more patients in.
While I was on the acute ward, Rashpall Mall told me there were 26 patients waiting in A&E to come up to her ward. I asked her when she’d have beds for them, and she shrugged her shoulders.
Back down with Louise in bed management, she helped me understand why there are no beds. Currently in the hospital there are 131 patients who are medically fit to leave. That’s 131 beds that could be freed up for incoming patients.
The reason most of them can’t leave is because half the area’s care homes are closed; Covid outbreaks and staff shortages have forced them to shut their doors. Louise explained it wasn’t safe to discharge them so they have to stay.
I could sense her frustration and her longing to get them out. Omicron has hit the community so hard things are beginning to grind to a halt.
In essence, New Cross Hospital is beginning to metaphorically resemble a balloon, at some point if it keeps filling up it will burst. Louise says they’re not quite there yet, but not far off.
New Cross is not unique. It is suffering from exactly the same issues and pressures as every hospital across the UK.
NHS England is doing everything it can to resolve the problem and has started erecting mini nightingale hubs in car parks and canteens to create more space.
The chief medical officer was pretty effusive in his response to this. "What’s the point," he said, when he doesn’t have the man power to staff it? If the nightingale hubs stand empty, it won't be the first time.