Coronavirus beds 'like pressure of 15 winters' in Wales

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Dr Andrew Goodall
Image caption,
Dr Andrew Goodall said cancelling routine operations to free up beds and “preparing well” had helped

Hospitals in Wales are standing up to coronavirus but face providing an "exceptional response" in the coming weeks, according to the head of NHS Wales.

The number of beds being lined up is the equivalent of 15 years' worth of extra capacity due to winter pressures.

NHS Wales chief executive Dr Andrew Goodall said: "These are extraordinary moments."

He added field hospitals and 3,000 freed-up hospital beds would help.

Dr Goodall told BBC Wales all hospitals were currently reporting "green level one" under the NHS Wales status system, which positively reflected that they had capacity and resilience.

"Today we have 369 critical care beds available and 50% of them are unoccupied," he said.

"Probably a third of occupied beds are taken up with coronavirus patients. If I look at acute and community beds there are around 3,000 beds unoccupied. In fact, out of our total bed pool, probably 1,000 are confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients."

But he said he was in no doubt the NHS was preparing for a surge in demand in the next few weeks.

"These are extraordinary moments," he said. "Even thinking of the scale of having doubled the number of critical beds in the matter of days."

Image source, Getty Images

How about intensive care?

One intensive care consultant on Monday said she had been asked potentially to prepare for working at 10 times the normal capacity.

Dr Goodall said critical care units had plans to expand by three or four times their capacity "and to do it on as safe a basis as possible".

He said the cancelling of routine operations to free beds a few weeks ago and "preparing well" had helped retrain staff and allow more to become part of critical care teams.

There had been a freeing up of about 3,000 hospital beds to help "put us in a strong position".

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Getting Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli ready to become a field hospital

What about field hospitals?

On field hospitals being created across Wales, Dr Goodall said this was "a completely exceptional response in any of our career experiences."

"Normal winter pressures see the NHS in Wales looking for 400 to 450 extra beds in the system.

"We're aiming for 7,000 beds and rising, as plans still get confirmed by different areas.

"But this is an exceptional response and I'm very grateful for both the staff and the planning across all the different health boards and working with partners."

Field hospitals would try to alleviate pressures on main hospitals, where the focus for caring for Covid-19 patients would be.

Some would include recovering coronavirus patients but they would mostly play a wider community health role.

"The field hospitals will operate mainly as step-down, progress on pathways to discharge. There are different functions associated with some of them, depending on their size.

"The Principality Stadium will include, for example, some element of assessment. But most are trying to support patients in getting closer to their home environment."

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
PPE visors being made at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant

What about personal protective equipment (PPE)?

This was a key priority - 8 million extra items had been issued, and NHS Wales was focusing on trying to replenish supplies and looking at manufacturing and supply chains.

What about staff?

At the moment, staff absence was about 8-10% - higher in some places but staff were also returning to work in the NHS.

"This is a completely exceptional and extraordinary set of circumstances - we have really tragic circumstances happening around families at this stage," said Dr Goodall.

"What really astounds me, and I'm really humbled by it, is simply the outstanding efforts of staff to do the right thing, respond to the community needs, to treat and care for patients in health and social care settings. Their response has been extraordinary."