By Stuart Arnold LDRS

A senior medic has urged the public to help take the pressure off Teesside hospitals as covid-19 cases hit record numbers.

The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said it was currently dealing with 166 coronavirus cases – the equivalent of five and-a-half wards full of patients and more than half its total number of beds.

On Tuesday the trust, which operates hospitals in Stockton and Hartlepool, reported 20 deaths had occured from the virus over Christmas, which represented the highest number of covid-19 deaths on Teesside for a single day since the start of the pandemic.

Daily figures for the UK as a whole have hit record levels with 53,000 new cases also being announced, blamed in part on a new fast-spreading coronavirus variant, but also down to lags in Christmas reporting.

The recent icy weather on Teesside is only adding to the pressure on hospitals which are also braced for an influx of fall-type injury cases.

Dr Deepak Dwarakanath, medical director at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation

Deepak Dwarakanath, medical director at the North Tees Trust, said it was “extremely busy”, adding: “Any steps our community can take to reduce the pressure on our front of house urgent and emergency care service and our inpatient wards helps us to focus our resources on treating those very sick patients who need our help.”

The trust said the number of covid-19 patients in its care had increased by ten on Monday’s numbers with several understood to be on ventilators.

Dr Dwarakanath said: “We are extremely busy at the moment across the organisation, both with patients with covid-19, as well as with other conditions we commonly see in the winter period.

“I have some key messages for the public – firstly, for those of you who need our help in an emergency, please don’t delay in doing so.

“We will always be here for you and urge you to seek help.

“For minor injuries, we always advise people to contact the NHS 111 service, or visit your pharmacy for help and support.”

He added: “We want to warn people that cases of covid-19 across the region are still very high and remind our community to continue to be vigilant.

“Practice the mantra of hands, face, space at all times – washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask when you can and keeping two metres apart from others.

“We are also urging people to be careful in the icy and snowy weather conditions we are currently experiencing.

“Falls and fractures are very common in these conditions and can be extremely dangerous for the elderly and vulnerable in particular.”

At South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, there are 91 covid-19 patients in hospital with 11 on a ventilator, according to the latest NHS data.

The unprecedented level of infections has led one scientist advising the Government to call for “decisive, early national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February”.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said the UK was entering a very dangerous new phase of the outbreak and suggested there would be a requirement to move into virtual lockdown.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will reveal in the House of Commons on Wednesday what regions will move into which tier of coronavirus restrictions.

Teesside along with the rest of the North-East is in tier 3, however it could be moved into tier 4, essentially seeing the region return to the restrictions imposed during the November lockdown with non-essential retailers, gyms, hairdressers, barbers and sports facilities all having to close.

Some council leaders, however, are thought to favour a nationwide lockdown as the only way of protecting health and care services and the most vulnerable, meaning tier 4 being imposed as a minimum across the country.

There is also pressure on the Government to publish its scientific evidence on schools with some school leaders and union chiefs calling for a delay in most children returning next week after the Christmas break.