Welsh winter worries as hospitals struggle to help COVID-19 patients
John Bevir in Cardiff


The Welsh government is warning of a difficult winter as hospitals in the country struggle to deal with the number of COVID-19 patients.

The entire country has been under harsh national restrictions since before Christmas, but infection rates in Wales are amongst the worst in the world. As the number of cases has risen, so too has the number of people needing hospital treatment.

Things got so bad over the Christmas weekend that the biggest hospital in Wales tweeted an appeal for medical students to help with a staffing crisis.

The Cardiff and Vale University health board sent out the message on December 26 saying its critical care department was "urgently looking for assistance from medical students or other staff groups who have previously supported with proning patients."




Things have since improved, but the health board's COO Steve Curry struck a warning note: "We continue to experience ongoing operational pressures due to winter demand and COVID-19. The health board has capacity surge plans in place but these will be dependent on staff availability which continues to be a challenge, partly due to COVID-19 related absence.”

Those working in the hospitals are not immune to the virus wreaking havoc, and it's a similar picture across the worst-hit areas of the UK. 

"We should be working collectively, the doctors and the nurses alone cannot really help you," said Pushpo Babul Hossain of the Doctors' Association UK. "People really have to play their part for us to win this, otherwise we are going to reach nowhere. 

"And it has worked – we did see a time in July and August when things were looking up and they were looking better because the lockdown worked and people were wearing their masks. The little things go a long way. The NHS is literally begging people to please please stay at home."


'Greater urgency'

Wales imposed a short but highly restrictive 'firebreak' lockdown at the end of October. Coronavirus rates fell initially, but then accelerated rapidly as restrictions were eased.

Andrew RT Davies is the Shadow Health Minister for the Welsh Conservatives. He believes the two approved vaccines are the long-term solution, but is concerned about the speed of the rollout.

"There needs to be greater urgency with the vaccination programme to make sure people have confidence that it can achieve the goals that have been set for it," Davies said. "We heard numbers of two million people across the week need to be vaccinated – that equates to about 100,000 a week here in Wales, to get up to herd immunity levels by spring-summer, and we're not seeing anything like those numbers at the moment.”

The Welsh government declined to comment, but the advice remains to stay at home and obey the restrictions.

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