A SURGE in coronavirus cases is cranking up the pressure on Great Western Hospital workers. 

Swindon’s hospital was yesterday treating 144 confirmed and suspected Covid-19 patients – up from 118 on January 7. 

Chief executive Kevin McNamara said: “This far exceeds the numbers we were seeing in the first wave – back in April last year, our numbers peaked at 95 and is a 50 per cent increase in this last week alone.”

The hospital has an escalation plan in place which allows it to expand the number of wards dedicated to Covid-19 patients.

Mr McNamara added: “We are converting wards to Covid-19 areas where needed but increases in Covid-19 demand like this create more pressure on already stretched beds for non-Covid-19 patients. 

“The more areas the hospital we have to expand into, the more likely we would have to cancel activity, but this will only be as a last resort and patients will be contacted directly.”

The GWH Trust was unable to tell the Adver what would happen if the hospital reaches its full capacity. 

A spokesperson added: “We are also working closely with our partners across the region to ensure patients are discharged as quickly and as safely as possible, with the right support available to them outside of a hospital environment.”

The hospital expects Covid-19 numbers to continue to climb over the coming weeks. The number of coronavirus deaths passed 200 at GWH over the weekend, according to NHS England figures. 

There were 114 new cases confirmed in Swindon yesterday, and 46,169 in the UK. 

The rolling seven-day rate per 100,000 people in the town has soared to 583.3.

Mr McNamara said: “We would urge the people of Swindon and Wiltshire to keep following the important government guidelines around social distancing and mask wearing, and to also isolate when necessary and book a test if they become symptomatic.”

Six of the seven NHS England regions currently have a record number of Covid-19 hospital patients.

The south west has 1,936 patients, up 38 per cent. 

Some 2.6 million vaccines for Covid-19 have already been administered to 2.3 million people across the UK, health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed yesterday at a Downing Street press conference.

He said two-fifths of over-80s and almost a quarter of older care home residents have received their first dose. 

Mr Hancock said that the new variant of Covid-19 is “highly contagious and it is putting the NHS under very significant pressure". 

He added: “The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now – and that something is to follow the rules.

“I know there has been speculation about more restrictions, and we don’t rule out taking further action if it is needed, but it is your actions now that can make a difference.

“Stay at home, and please reduce all social contact that is not absolutely strictly necessary.

“That’s what is needed: act like you have the virus.”

The NHS director for England’s Stephen Powis said that even in the south west – which is the least affected area – more people are in hospital now than were in the entire country back in September. 

He said vaccination will not bring down hospitalisation yet, adding: “We’re not going to see it next week after. 

“It won’t be until we get to February that we start to see the early signs of that.”

Professor Powis said 1,200 pharmacies in England alone will join the vaccination rollout.