Published: 12:45, 18 January 2021
| Updated: 13:09, 18 January 2021
Hospitals in Kent remain under severe strain despite signs that Covid-19 infection rates are slowing as a result of the lockdown.
Both Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust are understood to be operating at or around full critical care capacity, meaning there are few spare beds for those most seriously ill patients requiring ventilation.
Latest Government data shows Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospitals were caring for a total of 281 coronavirus patients as of January 12.
Of those, 23 were requiring ventilation, a measure of the number of patients needing critical care.
This picture has chanced since the beginning of January when the trust was seeing 305 patients with the virus, but at the end of December 20 needed ventilation.
Figures from a Care Quality Commission report and a freedom of information request from March 2020 - the latest figures available - show the trust has between 16 and 19 beds across high dependency and intensive care units.
These wards are where most critically-ill patients with Covid-19 will be treated, showing the extent to which capacity is being stretched by the influx of infected cases.
'Trusts are under unprecedented pressure...'
Earlier this month Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford was reported to be at 'CRITCON level four' - the highest level of alert for critical care - according to data from an internal NHS dashboard.
This was later put down to an administrative error. As of January 12 the Dartford and Gravesham trust was caring for a total of 246 coronavirus patients, and of those 13 were on ventilation.
The situation in the county's hospitals remains grave as it is not yet believed the result of household mixing during the Christmas period will have been seen on the wards.
A report by the BBC found these two Kent hospital trusts are among 10 in England whose critical care capacity is now at its limit as a result of Covid-19 cases.
The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: "Trusts are under unprecedented pressure.
"The next few weeks are no doubt going to be the most testing in NHS history, but with compliance to lockdown rules, we know we can reduce the Covid demand and the vaccine continues to offer hope over this extraordinary period."
Case rates in Kent are now falling following the introduction of the national lockdown on January 6.
On January 9 is was reported that five days earlier the rate for Kent had reached 867 per 100,000 people, but this has now declined to 561.1.
However this does not mean the NHS is out of the woods yet. There is known to be a lag of days and weeks between infection rates translating into hospital admissions and patients requiring critical care.