INTENSIVE care staff at York Hospital are bracing themselves for an expected surge in seriously ill Covid patients over the next couple of weeks.

Dr Joe Carter, the consultant in charge of intensive care, said the hospital had already seen an increase in Covid positive patients over the last few days. This, he said, was likely to be as a result of ‘mixing over Christmas’.

That increase in Covid patients had not yet affected intensive care, he said. There was always a ‘lag’ because it could be several days before Covid patients became seriously ill enough to require critical care and oxygen support.

But intensive care staff fully expected the number of critically ill patients to start going up, he said.

“It is going to be a hard few weeks for health staff, and a hard few weeks for some patients and their families.”

Dr Carter spoke on the day that York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust passed the grim milestone of 400 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began - and on the day England’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty warned the next few weeks were ‘going to be the worst’.

Dr Carter had said before Christmas that he feared there would be a fresh wave of cases in the New Year.

But he said it was still ‘frustrating’ that this had happened. He said he understood why people had wanted to meet loved ones - and also why the Government had been reluctant to impose a strict Christmas lockdown earlier.

“But it was largely predictable that January was going to be difficult,” he said. “If people do mix, this is the result.”

At the time of speaking, Dr Carter said there were five critically ill Covid patients on one wing of the hospital’s intensive care unit. These were kept separate from the rest of the 17-bed unit, which was ‘close to capacity’ with non-Covid patients needing critical care - as always happened in winter.

A further 10 or so seriously ill Covid patients were being given non-invasive oxygen support on Covid wards, he said.

The hospital has an ‘escalator area’ - what is in normal circumstances the day surgery recovery area - which can be used for critical care cases if necessary, Dr Carter said.

So far it hadn’t been necessary to use this. “But I can’t see any situation in which we won’t be using it in the next week.”

Dr Carter said intensive care staff were tired and anxious - and not just because of the stress of work. They had been affected by the pandemic in their home lives like everyone else, he said. “They’re tired out of work too - fed up with what’s going on.”

There were reasons for optimism, he said. Staff have been though this all before. There are new drugs which reduce mortality rates amongst the very sickest Covid patients. And above all there is the roll-out of the vaccine.

Dr Carter and many of his staff have already had a first dose of the Covid vaccine - and staff vaccinations are continuing. But he said it was the mass vaccination of members of the public that was ultimately ‘going to be our way out of this’. Unfortunately, that would not happen overnight, he said: “It is going to take a long time. We’re not going to vaccinate 50 million people in short order.”

Other than vaccinations, he said, the only way to restrict spread of the virus was by avoiding social contact.

But he warned: “For a significant number of people, I think (the next few weeks) is going to be a sad time.”