HEALTH chiefs have urged people to keep to the rules as Swindon comes out of lockdown – in order to prevent the town’s hospital from being overwhelmed.

Bosses at Great Western Hospital last week feared they would have to start cancelling non-urgent procedures as the number of coronavirus patients on the wards hit 70.

While the number of beds occupied by Covid patients has since fallen to around 50, GWH and health officials at Swindon Borough Council have launched a new 'Do it for our GWH' campaign aimed at encouraging people to follow the government guidance in an effort to stop the hospital from being hit hard by the virus.

Swindon is due to enter Tier 2 next week as the country comes out of lockdown. It means salons and other shops will be able to reopen and you will be able to meet up to six people outdoors, but pubs and restaurants will only be able to serve drinks with a “substantial meal”.

Urging people to follow the social distancing rules, GWH chief executive Kevin McNamara said: “All we can do is appeal to that sense of community in Swindon.

"As long as I’ve worked here, that’s one of the things I genuinely think makes Swindon a special place to work. we’ve seen that community spirit through things like the radiotherapy campaigns and we’ve seen it through wave one. I’d like to tap into some of that.

“Although the clapping has stopped, the pressure hasn’t and we need that support in the weeks and months ahead.

“There will always be people who won’t abide by the rules and won’t see it as part of their social responsibility but I think the vast majority of people recognise the ripple effect our actions have.”

Across the region, there were tens of thousands of people predicted to wait more than a year for treatment.

The hospital had prioritised cancer patients and those requiring emergency treatment. However, considerable backlogs had built up over 2020 as a result of routine appointments being cancelled or delayed due to the pandemic.

Hospital managers had made a start of reducing that backlog over the summer and autumn, but there had been fears this month that a rising number of Covid patients would result in routine procedures having to be cancelled.

Mr McNamara said that crisis had been averted – for now – but it wasn’t yet clear whether the current, second wave of the virus will follow the same pattern as during the first wave – with a spike in admissions followed by a drop off in cases.

He said ensuring continued access to care for all patients “is as much of a focus now as responding to wave two”. Mr McNamara added: “It’s all part of our daily planning – making sure those patients are front and centre of my mind as much as Covid patients are as well.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Steve Maddern, the council’s director of public health said people needed to keep their guard up against Covid.

“We don’t want to undo all the good work Swindon has been doing across the past few months. But, in particular we don’t want to undo some of the positive reductions in case rates that we’ve seen as part of those national restrictions,” he said.

The town had seen the equivalent of 145.8 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, down from a high of 216 earlier this month.

Officials were said to be managing a total of 33 outbreaks – classed as two or more cases – or one case “situations” in Swindon workplaces and schools, a fall compared to previous weeks.

There were “situations” in 27 schools and three health and social care establishments like care homes.

Mr Maddern said: “We’re going in the right direction.”

The health chief said it was absolutely the right decision to put Swindon into Tier 2 – along the bulk of other areas in England.

But he said councils across the country were still waiting for guidance from the government setting out what areas needed to do to fall back to Tier 1 and what would trigger a town being pushed up into Tier 3.