Published: 06:00, 31 December 2020
More people are dying with coronavirus in east Kent’s hospitals than anywhere else in England, new figures reveal.
NHS statistics show there have been 125 Covid-19 deaths recorded at sites run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust in the last fortnight, with 40% of beds now occupied by a patient with the virus.
But on Tuesday there were 415 patients with coronavirus across the trust’s sites - almost double the peak of the first wave on April 20, when there were 187.
It means 40% of 1,030 available hospital beds are now taken up by Covid-19 patients.
Medical experts say anything over 20% represents a “dangerous level”.
The rising death toll follows soaring infection rates across the county in recent weeks following the emergence of a more virulent new coronavirus strain.
Medway NHS Foundation Trust has recorded 60 deaths at its sites over the past two weeks.
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and Dartford and Gravesham, however, have reported zero and 16 respectively.
The east Kent trust is also one of the biggest in England, and would expect patient capacity to be higher in the winter months.
But bosses will be frustrated that its hospitals are once again at the top of the national list, having also recorded the most deaths in the country across June and July.
Then, infection control issues were said to have been a major factor in the virus spreading within the trust’s sites, with the Care Quality Commission raising serious concerns following an inspection in August.
It is not thought in-hospital transmission is currently a factor, with patient numbers correlating with high case numbers across the region.
A spokesman for the east Kent trust said: “The high infection rates have translated into more patients needing hospital care and our thoughts are with everyone who has lost a loved one to the pandemic.
“Our incredibly dedicated staff are caring for more than twice the number of patients with Covid-19 compared to the height of the first wave, and our hospitals are extremely busy.”
The strain on Kent's hospitals was highlighted this week by an image shared on Twitter of several ambulances queuing outside Medway Maritime.
Student paramedic Cameron Walker, who posted the photograph, said about 20 crews were waiting to be dealt with, with some waiting up to six hours.
The four hospital trusts across the county are now urging people to use their services wisely as pressure mounts on hospitals, the ambulances service and 111.
Wilf Williams, from the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “The latest wave of Covid is putting all of our services under immense pressure.
"This is the hardest period we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who is working very hard to manage these challenging circumstances.
“We currently have twice the number of Covid positive patients receiving care in our hospitals than we did in the first wave."
Across Kent, there are 1,012 patients in hospital, 90% more than the 532 seen during the peak of the first wave.
While more beds are now occupied by patients with Covid-19, the statistics do not differentiate between those who are being treated because of the virus, and those who are not.
The same can be said of deaths, with those who die within 28 days of a positive coronavirus case recorded as a Covid-19 fatality by the trust, whether or not the virus was the cause.
It is hoped the first fall in infection rates locally for weeks will start to see the number of patients in hospital fall.
In the week up to Christmas, there were 868 cases across the Canterbury district - a drop of 19%.
Ashford, Folkestone and Hythe, Dover, Thanet, Swale, Maidstone, Medway and Tonbridge and Malling all saw falls in the number of new diagnoses over the same period.
However, the figure has increased in Dartford, Gravesham, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks.