The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in eastern England is now higher than levels recorded at the peak of the first wave of the virus, figures show.
The data comes as some trusts said they had postponed some services amid increasing numbers of coronavirus patients.
Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust said some non-urgent operations have been postponed, and London’s Barts Health NHS Trust said it is deferring some routine procedures.
Both stressed that cancer care is unaffected.
A total of 1,734 hospital patients with confirmed Covid-19 were reported on December 16.
During the first wave, the number of patients in eastern England peaked at 1,679 on April 12.
It means the first-wave peak of Covid-19 patients has now been surpassed in three of the seven NHS regions in England.
On November 16 new records were set in north-west England and also north-east England/Yorkshire, though both of these regions have since seen a slight fall in patients.
In three other regions, levels of patients are very near to their first-wave peaks.
South-east England had 2,195 hospital patients with confirmed Covid-19 on December 16, close to the peak of 2,347 on April 14.
In the Midlands, the number of patients has remained just above 3,000 for the past few weeks, near the first-wave peak of 3,430 on April 12.
And in south-west England 1,021 patients were recorded on December 16, slightly under the first-wave peak of 1,080 on April 15.
Only in London is the level of Covid-19 patients well below that seen during the first wave of the virus – though here numbers have started to rise sharply.
Some 2,543 patients were recorded in the capital on December 16, up from 1,787 a week ago.
The first-wave peak in London was 5,201 patients on April 9.
Barts Health NHS Trust, which serves around 2.5 million people in east London, said it has moved to the “high pressure” phase of its winter escalation plan.
A Barts Health spokesman said: “We are treating high numbers of patients with Covid-19, and in line with our winter escalation plan we have moved into a ‘high pressure’ phase and are taking steps to keep our patients safe.
“These include deferring some routine procedures over the coming days so we can redeploy staff and increase the number of critical care and general beds available.”
The trust, which operates across four major hospital sites The Royal London, St Bartholomew’s, Whipps Cross and Newham, said the plan will not affect cancer patients and that people will be contacted directly if their elective procedures need to be postponed.
Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust said some non-urgent operations have been postponed and added that surgery will continue to be prioritised based on clinical need.
The trust’s deputy chief executive Tom Abell said they are dealing with a rising number of coronavirus patients and urged people to follow the rules.
He said: “The hospital is open and patients should attend planned appointments and procedures as normal unless we contact them to say otherwise.
“The number of Covid-19 patients we’re caring for is increasing and it’s vital that our patients and the local community follow the national guidance to help keep people safe.”
The total number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 15,465 on December 16, up from 13,467 a week earlier.
During the first wave of the virus, this number peaked at 18,974 on April 12.
All figures are taken from the Government’s coronavirus dashboard.
A spokesman for NHS East of England said: “The number of COVID-19 patients being cared for in the East of England has increased, some trusts have more Covid patients than they looked after in the first wave of Covid, which is why it is so important for people to follow national guidance to help reduce transmission rates.”
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