Published: 19:25, 24 November 2020
| Updated: 19:33, 24 November 2020
Half of the intensive care beds at Medway Maritime Hospital are being used by people with coronavirus.
The startling numbers show the "severe pressure" on the NHS in the county, as hospital admissions across Kent continue to rise.
At least 367 patients with coronavirus occupied hospital beds across the county's seven main hospitals last week.
While Medway faces the biggest challenge, at least one-third of intensive care beds are being occupied by Covid-19 patients across Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley too.
Adam Wickings, the NHS winter director for Kent and Medway, says local health services have been hit "very significantly" and earlier than any other part of the south east of England.
Speaking to a panel of councillors during a health scrutiny meeting run by Kent County Council (KCC) earlier today, he said: "I have been in the NHS since 1986. This winter will be the most difficult and is already proving to be.”
Mr Wickings has warned that the Kent NHS faces "severe pressure" regularly, particularly critical care. A total of 21 coronavirus patients required ventilator support in the county's hospitals seven days ago (Nov 17).
Covid hospital admissions have continued to rise in the last four weeks as infection rates in parts of Kent, such as Thanet and Swale, are among the highest in the country.
Last Tuesday (Nov 17), Kent's four NHS trusts recorded 367 Covid patients in hospital beds compared to 40 a month ago.
Mr Wickings said: "Unlike the first wave we are still trying to maintain non-Covid related services as much as possible. That is proving extremely challenging."
He added: "We are fairly often getting to the period where we seem to have no intensive care beds left at all.
"To maintain separation for Covid and non-coronavirus patients who are having surgery is extremely challenging and we are struggling a lot in that area.
“I am immensely impressed with the dedication and hard work of extremely challenged and tired staff in the trusts and other support systems."
The sobering reality of the situation indicated the national lockdown was unlikely to ease the pressures on the NHS over the Christmas period, which faces several challenges, including Covid, Brexit and winter flu and financial costs.
Mr Wickings said:" I would not confidently say it will get better within a month.”
Gravesham borough councillor Shane Mochrie-Cox (Lab) described the situation as a "doomsday scenario" while Swale county councillor Ken Pugh (Con), said: "Sittingbourne and Sheppey have the highest rate of Covid in the country.
“What is the NHS doing to keep people out of Medway Maritime Hospital where they apparently catch Covid and do not survive by all accounts?"
Ashford county councillor Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), the KCC committee chairman, also called for guarantees that the NHS services would not be overwhelmed.
"We are fairly often getting to the period where we seem to have no intensive care beds left at all..."
He said: "Can you give us an assurance about the levelling out of services and whether it is appropriate to have hospitals under that pressure. Or is there an effort to disperse the situation to less affected areas?”
In response, Mr Wickings said "mutual aid" was being provided between Kent's four hospital trusts, such as the transfer of staff . More local plans are being developed across the region.
He said that three Kent care homes will be used to assist with the discharge of Covid positive hospital patients for a "two-week period" while their situation is assessed before being sent to their homes. These will go 'live' in December.
A future update will be provided on the situation at the next meeting on January 27.