GREAT Western Hospital is still in a “precarious situation” with staff trying to treat twice as many coronavirus patients as on Christmas Eve - and more expected later in the month.

The hospital is into the second day of a critical incident as medics struggle to find enough beds to treat 158 coronavirus patients - 145 people who have the disease and 13 more awaiting test results after being suspected of having it.

This is a 65 per cent increase from the number of Covid-19 patients being looked after on January 4 and a whopping 200 per cent increase since Christmas Eve.

Social distancing forced the hospital to reduce the number of beds available but it now has to find space to include extra beds to cope with this huge rise in patients needing help while also keeping them separate from patients without Covid.

Eight areas in the hospital are currently treating people with Covid-19. The Intensive Care Unit has a maximum capacity of 12 people but there are 15 patients in intensive care at the moment, so it has had to expand.

The physio gym and discharge lounge are being used to store extra beds while operations have been cancelled so that theatres can be used and surgeons and other staff who would be carrying out these operations can instead be redeployed to support patients with and without the disease.

Hospital trust boss Kevin McNamara spoke of the immense pressure facing medical staff but said the situation was starting to improve.

He said: “We are in a very precarious position because our projections show that the number of people in hospital will continue to increase through to the end of this month, so our focus is on making sure we can care for all patients, not just Covid but non-Covid as well.

“I appreciate there will be people who had operations cancelled since the first wave and were hoping to get treated quite soon but this creates additional pressure for the trust.

“By cancelling that activity, we can free staff up to support colleagues in ICU and patients and other parts of the hospital we are struggling to staff because of levels of demand or staff absence.

“On Tuesday evening, we found ourselves in an even more challenging position which manifested in very long ambulance wait times at the Emergency Department.

“We have worked with colleagues in the borough and Wiltshire to focus on supporting safe discharges so we can move patients through. This has made a positive difference but that is relative, we are still not out of the woods.

“We are starting to see case rates decline but they are still high.”

Mr McNamara urged families of people in hospital to take them home as soon as they are well enough to leave and reassured people with appointments that it is still safe to attend and that they would be notified if their appointment is cancelled.