THE number of patients being treated for coronavirus in Warrington Hospital is at its highest since the pandemic began.

And bosses are planning for it to get worse in coming weeks as new cases continue to rocket.

More than 200 patients are currently in Warrington Hospital, more than the peaks in spring and November.

Intensive or critical care is also much busier than at any previous time during the past 10 months.

READ MORE > Remission is a real relief even if it is just for a few weeks

Simon Constable, chief executive at Warrington and Halton Hospital, said the trust is 'beyond full' with patients – but that people should still attend in an emergency.

He said: "We have in effect another ward of Covid patients than we had in November.

"And that is of significant concern."

Covid patients currently make up around 40 per cent of bed space at the trust, with all of them at Warrington Hospital in a bid to keep Halton Covid-secure.

This third wave now sees 204 patients, the peak in the first wave was 124 patients on Easter Sunday. On November 6, it was 179.

With cases in the community in Warrington and Halton continuing to rise rapidly, that number will also rise over the coming weeks.

Mr Constable added: "We are planning for a higher number of patients in the coming weeks, that is for sure.

"We are full. We are pretty full all the time.

"And if we were having this discussion a year ago, I would have said we were pretty full.

"But this is a different kind of full. The nature of coronavirus means the burden on critical care is much higher.

"That number is 25 per cent more than our retained bed base. So other wards are becoming critical care wards."

Urgent treatment, such as cancer surgery, is continuing.

But other less urgent treatment is on pause to allow doctors, nurses and anaesthetists to transfer from Halton to Warrington to help with critical care patients.

Mr Constable added: "We are reviewing all of this on a day by day basis."

Of course among all the numbers are real patients with real stories.

That includes the families of the more than 300 people who have died at the hospitals and the hundreds already treated and those still on wards.

Staff are battling rising patient numbers in a working environment that sees them surrounded by infectious diseases.

Mr Constable said: "All the patients are individual and all our staff are individuals.

"That is something I am very conscious of.

"Staff members are working with this and living with this. They go home to the same restrictions as all of us, not seeing family or going out.

"I am always aware that staff are living and breathing this pandemic 24 hours a day.

"The staff are incredibly resilient and professional.

Warrington Guardian: Simon Constable with staff in the spring.

"They work as a team and they are all in it together.

"They are in unchartered territory working in a pandemic. They are prepared for it but they are doing an amazing job.

"There has been an awful lot of learning in the last 10 months about how we care for patients and work with what is a highly infectious disease."

Among those has been the use of oxygen, with the much praised 'black boxes' being used instead of ventilators.

But with so many patients using those and other ventilators, it has left a real need to check on the oxygen supply at the hospital.

Mr Constable explained: "It is a potential concern and it is under constant review.

"We are using high levels of oxygen, with the black box treatment a part of that.

"And there are pressures with this being an older hospital too.

"We monitor the levels on an hour by hour bases too make sure we are not going too near our capacity.

"I never thought I would be saying that a year ago."

He also asked residents to stick to the current lockdown rules to help ease the pressures on our NHS.

He added: "People have been living for a year in some level of restrictions and that is incredibly tough for all sort of reasons, whether children are at school or college, or you have lost your job or not able to see family.

"But there is a glimmer of hope through the vaccine.

"I just plead with people to take responsibility for themselves and do what they can.

"Everything we do now could have an impact on other people somewhere on the chain, even if not in your own family."

Vaccinations are continuing apace at the hospital.

More than 4,500 people have currently had a dose, either staff at the trust, other healthcare providers or patients.

The target remains to have all people in the top priority groups, over 70s, health care staff and the extremely vulnerable, vaccinated by the middle of February.

"We are not expecting that vaccination will have an impact on this wave.

"But there will be an impact down the line.

"It is a big deal and we will continue to support and play our part in getting those vaccinations to the public."

Admissions to accident and emergency dropped during the first lockdown in spring, but current levels reflect what would be expected at this time of year.

Mr Constable says people should still attend hospital in an emergency, if they need hospital care.

But he said residents can also take advantage of the scheme which launched in autumn to book an emergency appointment at Warrington or Runcorn over the phone – to reduce waiting times.

"And if you are unsure how to access, call 111.

"But if you need emergency care, you should come to the hospital," he added.