A major incident has been declared in Essex amid fears the number of Covid-19 cases could overwhelm the county’s health services.
The Essex Resilience Forum (ERF) said “growing demand” was putting stress on hospitals and social care settings.
On Tuesday Mid and South Essex NHS Trust placed all three of its hospitals on critical alert.
All of Essex is in tier four and the south of the county has some of the worst-affected districts in England.
Essex Police Chief Constable BJ Harrington, who is co-chairman of the ERF, said declaring a major incident allowed it “to seek further support from the government to address the severe pressures which the health system is under”.
The forum said the number of patients being treated for Covid in the county had exceeded the levels seen at the peak of the first wave and “these levels are likely to increase further in the coming days”.
The ERF – comprised of health services, blue light responders and councils – said issues included “critical care and bed capacity, staff sickness/self-isolation levels and the system’s ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments”.
Mr Harrington urged the public to continue only dialling 999 or attending A&E in an emergency.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, said the declaration of a major incident was “incredibly alarming”.
He said: “I welcome the decision of the local resilience board. Hopefully it will mean hospitals get the resources they need to help with this very difficult situation.”
The Department for Health and Social Care has been approached for comment as to what government help Essex can expect.
It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock prepares to set out the details of England’s latest coronavirus tier review.
On Monday, figures showed the number of patients being treated for Covid-19 across hospitals in England was at a record high of 20,426 – exceeding the previous peak of about 19,000 in April.
The latest government figures show there were 549 Covid patients at Southend, Basildon and Broomfield University hospitals, run by the Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, which is the highest total since the start of the pandemic.
‘Increasingly difficult situation’
Clinical staff employed by the trust were also asked to cancel their leave and return to work to help an “increasingly difficult situation”.
Anthony McKeever, from the Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, said they were trying to “limit the impact on the NHS and the wider health system”.
“This involves using critical care capacity elsewhere in Essex and the Eastern region and identifying additional locations and capacity to assist with the discharging of patients to reduce pressure on hospitals,” he added.
How bad is the situation in Essex?
Brentwood continues to have the highest rates of Covid in England with 969 new cases recorded in the seven days to 25 December – the equivalent of 1,258.1 cases per 100,000 people – and from 1,134.8 in the seven days to 18 December.
Epping Forest, also in Essex, has the second highest rate, up from 1,179.3 to 1,256.0, with 1,654 new cases.
Thurrock, again in Essex, is in third place, where the rate has fallen slightly from 1,295.2 to 1,181.6, with 2,060 new cases.
The average Covid-19 rate per 100,000 of the population in England is 402.6.
By Simon Dedman, BBC Essex political reporter
This is essentially the people that are running Essex breaking the glass and hitting the alarm button because they are so concerned about the NHS – and especially the hospitals in south Essex – being overwhelmed and running out of beds.
In some cases there is no spare capacity as it is and critical care beds are in very short supply.
I think what this means is patients will be sent out of county – perhaps the likes of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire – where rates are rising but are not as bad as they are in Essex.
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