Hackney’s public health director Dr Sandra Husbands. Photograph: Hackney Council

Homerton Hospital has had to open its escalation ward to cope with increased demand – with health bosses warning people to remain vigilant amid rising Covid cases locally.

The hospital’s chief executive Tracey Fletcher said Covid patients are currently taking up a whole ward as well as the escalation area in the intensive therapy unit.

She told the City and Hackney outbreak control board: “It is absolutely true to say that we are generally very, very busy.

“Covid patients are being contained at the moment, but we would not want the numbers to increase any more, to spill over onto a second ward.”

All hospitals in north-east London are very busy, she said, and patients are diverted from other hospitals, including Whipps Cross, if needed.

The hospital in Hackney has the highest number of patients suffering from  Covid in the latest wave of the infection. It has been increasing since July, with a dip in September.

There were 34 Covid patients at the hospital in the week ending 2 November, including five on ventilation machines. This is a 36 per cent increase on the previous week when there were 25 Covid patients – six of them on ventilators.

A fifth of the acute patients at the hospital have Covid.

Fletcher said: “Ordinarily we would not open our escalation ward until January, if indeed we did open it. There have been years when we haven’t opened it, but we’ve had it open for two weeks.”

Escalation beds are brought in to cope with extra demand, usually in the winter.

According to the latest data, 524 people have died of Covid in Hackney, with 12 deaths in the City.

Four people died in Hackney from the virus in the week ending 29 October.

It comes as case rates in Hackney and the City are beginning to rise, with an increase in all age groups.

Younger people have the highest number of cases, but older people are also infected, “which is worrying” said Diana Divajeva, the principal public health analyst for City and Hackney.

There are also high positivity rates as more people get tested, which could lead to another peak.

City and Hackney’s director of public health Dr Sandra Husbands said: “The more people who are infected, even if we have a lot  of people being vaccinated, because the  infections are still spreading, the more likely it is that we will get people who are sick enough to be admitted to hospital.

“If we have enough people with Covid it’s just going to add to the existing NHS pressure and create the situation where not just locally but across the country we may have to go to plan B.”

She stressed the importance of following Covid precautions – mask-wearing, social distancing, ventilation and getting the vaccine and the booster.

She added: “All of these measures together, including the vaccination, are still required because we have so much virus in circulation and we know that this one [the more easily transmittable delta variant] can still infect people even if they’ve had two doses of the vaccine.”

By 10 November, 68 per cent of City residents over the age of 12 had had at least one dose of the vaccine – 60 per cent in Hackney.

Husbands warned that Covid patients in critical care are mainly people who are not fully vaccinated.

Whilst the vaccine does not fully prevent people getting or spreading the more virulent delta variant, it cuts the risk of them getting a severe infection or dying from the virus.

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