BOSSES at Dudley's main hospital have been reducing what they call 'non-urgent activity' to free up staff to support the critical care of patients to cope with the rising number of people suffering the severe effects of Covid-19.

The Dudley Group has also taken steps to increase critical care bed capacity at Russells Hall Hospital as the number of inpatients with coronavirus continues to rise.

NHS England data indicates the trust has 20 to 25 adult critical care beds and latest figures, for January 3 this year, show 68 per cent (15 out of 22 available on that date) were occupied.

On that same day the hospital was caring for 150 inpatients with Covid-19 –11 of whom were on ventilators requiring critical care.

Just two days later, on January 5 – the latest date data is currently available for, the number of inpatients with coronavirus had risen to 161, with 13 on mechanical ventilators.

There have only been two days since the pandemic began that the number of inpatients with Covid-19 has been higher than this.

The highest number to date was 172 on April 4, back during the first national lockdown, and on November 29 the number of inpatients with Covid reached 168 but had started to fall up to and over Christmas before rising again.

Diane Wake, chief executive of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, said of the current situation: "In line with other trusts across the country we are seeing more Covid-19 patients admitted and we are taking a number of actions to ensure safe patient care.

"This includes reducing non-urgent activity to free up staff to support critical care and increasing the number of critical care beds."

The Health Service Journal reported this week on how a number of trusts in the Midlands have been asked to dilute staffing ratios in critical care from the standard one nurse to one patient ratio to help boost critical care capacity in the face of rising cases of coronavirus.

Chiefs at the Dudley Group would not directly confirm current nursing staff ratios in the trust's critical care unit but Ms Wake said: "There have been no hospital wide decisions to change ratios but we are making clinically-led decisions to ensure we can meet patients’ needs and use our staff appropriately.

"We keep this under constant review based on clinical and staffing needs on a shift by shift basis."

Trust bosses would not confirm what they define as 'non-urgent activity' and whether operating theatres/recovery areas at Russells Hall have been given over to help cope with a surge in patients but they stressed clinically urgent care would continue.

Dudley South MP Mike Wood, however, warned: "If the number of admissions carries on exceeding the number of discharges then our hospitals will not have the space and staff needed to care for everybody, meaning patients in urgent need of treatment – whether for coronavirus, cancer, strokes, complications following child-birth or other conditions – could have had to be turned away. This happened last year in France and Italy, but I never want it to happen in our NHS."

He told the News on Wednesday (January 13) the number of inpatients with Covid at Russells Hall, which has 596 general/acute beds, had rocketed to 200 and he added: "The number of patients in critical care is more than double normal capacity. Additional capacity has had to be freed up by postponing non-urgent treatment, and other patients have been sent for treatment by private providers paid by the NHS."

Latest hospital Covid figures are due to be published by NHS England on Thursday January 14.