Exclusive

Hospitals in Wales near full capacity with just 10 critical care beds left

17 December 2020, 17:25 | Updated: 17 December 2020, 20:05

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Hospitals in Wales are almost at full capacity after the number of available critical care beds dropped to just 10 on Wednesday, LBC can reveal.

The figure represents a worrying downward trend after dropping from the 22 beds that were available on Tuesday.

Wales has never before had so few critical care beds available and if more patients end up in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) then full capacity could be reached in just days.

Backup procedures and surge capacity measures are in place in case the number drops again.

However, with so many staff off with Covid-19 or self-isolating, the number of critical care beds available dropping lower than ever before, and the number of critical patients with the virus being the highest on record, the situation in Wales is looking perilous.

The situation means the Welsh NHS is now on the brink of becoming what First Minister Mark Drakeford called "the National Coronavirus Service".

Read more: Rate of Covid in Wales almost three times higher than England

Explained: Wales Christmas Covid rules - Christmas bubbles and Level 4

At one point on Wednesday, two hospitals had no critical care beds left and Swansea Bay NHS had just one available.

This is why some trusts are postponing non-urgent operations and more are expected to follow.

However, the situation regarding care beds is complex as the total number available in Wales can fluctuate.

Nonetheless, it shows that the Welsh coronavirus outbreak is in a precarious position and that the health service in the country is on the brink of being overwhelmed.

There are more patients in hospital with Covid than in the first wave of the pandemic, with roughly 100 of those believed to be occupying critical care beds.

On Thursday, figures revealed that the rate of coronavirus infection in the nation soared to 530.2 per 100,000 people for the seven days up to 12 December.

Read more: Non-urgent surgery and outpatient clinics in parts of Wales suspended

Explained: Guidance for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

The seven-day rolling average for Wales has soared well above the other UK nations
The seven-day rolling average for Wales has soared well above the other UK nations. Picture: LBC

It represents an increase of around 30 per cent on Wednesday's figure, which stood at 377.8, with the number expected to rise over the next few days.

By comparison, it is almost three times higher than England's latest number - 196.3 - while Scotland's rate stands at 111.8.

The figures for Wales include a backlog of samples processed in the UK Government's lighthouse laboratories from a period of over a week that were missed off updates for previous days.

However, it is still an accurate representation of the extent to which Covid-19 is spreading in the country as it is based on the date the tests were done, not the date the test results were included on the system.

It is the highest infection rate any of the four UK nations have seen since the beginning of the pandemic, while 14 of Wales' 22 local authority areas now have their highest case rates since it started.

Meanwhile, Public Health Wales recorded a further 52 deaths on Thursday and another 11,468 new infections, bringing the nation's tallies since the beginning of the pandemic to 2,973 fatalities and 114,566 cases.

On Wednesday, the Welsh Government confirmed that the number of households allowed to mix over Christmas would be reduced by law from three to two.

It came after days of speculation and confusion between the four UK nations on the relaxation of restrictions between 23 and 27 December.

Wales will also enter a three-week Level 4 lockdown, effectively another firebreak, from 28 December.

Additional reporting from Mike Hughes.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify