Multiple sources told The Independent the hospital has come under growing pressure as the numbers of Covid-19 admissions have risen in recent weeks, forcing it to activate “mutual aid” plans with other hospitals in the region.
Bosses at the Royal Bolton Hospital confirmed it had transferred a small number of critically ill patients to hospitals nearby to help it cope.
It comes as the latest data for hospitalisations in England show the number of Covid-19 patients has increased by 30 per cent in the two weeks since 2 June, rising from 801 to 1,057 on Wednesday.
Government scientists have warned the increased transmissibility of the new Delta variant could lead to a wave of infections and hospitalisations as big as that seen in previous surges of the virus in January 2020 and April last year – the variants behind those increases were 60 per cent less easily spread that the Delta variant, now dominant across the UK.
Trusts are extremely busy addressing significant backlogs of care, increased demand in urgent and emergency care, and continuing Covid-19 pressures
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, told The Independent the situation in Bolton was mirrored across the service, with hospitals facing multiple challenges.
He said: “Trusts are extremely busy addressing significant backlogs of care, increased demand in urgent and emergency care, and continuing Covid-19 pressures.”
According to NHS England, there were 1,057 Covid patients in hospital on Wednesday – levels last seen at the start of May. Despite 138 discharges in the previous 24 hours, there were 82 new admissions of patients with Covid-19 and 110 patients already in hospital testing positive.
In Bolton, there are now 41 Covid patients, lower than its 49 peak on 27 May, but with 12 patients in intensive care. A total of 36 patients are on oxygen. At the Royal Blackburn hospital there are now 57 Covid patients, with 17 in intensive care.
One source told The Independent the trust had been transferring patients throughout last week to maintain spare critical care beds to allow routine operations to go ahead.
They said: “It’s how we’ve been able to keep elective services running. [The] majority transferred out have been non-Covid. Our Covid admission rate remains about the same in terms of critical care.”
Critically ill patients are not usually transferred just to free up beds, but increasingly hospitals are working together to try and keep operations going. Without spare ICU beds, surgeries such as hip operations have to be delayed.
A spokesperson for the trust said: “Over the past week we have requested mutual aid from a neighbouring trust to transfer a very small number of patients out of our critical care unit, following the agreed plans in place across Greater Manchester to respond to periods of higher demand.”
They added: “During busy periods patients are transferred to other providers within the critical care network in a planned way to ensure hospitals can retain appropriate capacity, especially when looking ahead to periods of anticipated pressure and to allow patients to receive the best care in the most appropriate environment.”
While the latest data shows hospitals are at 90 per cent of their pre-pandemic activity levels, Mr Hopson said: “They are doing this in the context of enhanced infection control measures to help prevent nosocomial [in-hospital] infections, and significantly reduced bed numbers. This is on top of rolling out the national vaccination programme.
“But we know that even a small spike in Covid pressures can impact non-Covid care as priorities have to be shifted.”
He said ministers needed to commit to permanently funding new discharge models that saw patients assessed in the community to free up hospital beds. During the pandemic, this had delivered 30,000 extra hospital beds for patients and stopping the money would constrain hospital capacity even further, he warned.