THE NHS faces a bigger crisis than at any other time in its 73-year history, the chief executive of Colchester Hospital has warned.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Trust, issued the stark warning at a meeting of the trust’s Public Council of Governors yesterday.

He told governors intensive care units at both Colchester and Ipswich hospitals were full, despite both having doubled in size due to coronavirus.

There are now around double the amount of Covid patients at the trust than during the first peak of the virus in April.

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Mr Hulme said: “Tomorrow is the 41st anniversary of my first day in the NHS. I have never seen the NHS under as much pressure.

“I have weathered many previous winters and previous flu pandemics but it is not an exaggeration to say the NHS is in a really, really dire situation.

“We know there are members of the public and outspoken celebrities who are denying this crisis exists. But this is an absolute crisis and that is not a phrase I have used in my career.”

He added: “The pressure is of a level the NHS has not experienced in its 73-year history.”

Both hospitals now have special respiratory wards to help with the influx of Covid patients, both of which are now full.

Mr Hulme told governors he was expecting the situation to get worse before it gets better, with infection rates rapidly increasing.

Colchester’s infection rate is now 881.8 cases per 100,000 people, with 1,717 cases confirmed in the week to January 2.

This has more than doubled from 415.5 cases per 100,000 people a week previously.

The infection rate in Tendring is now 929.3 cases per 100,000 people, up from 399.8 a week before.

Mr Hulme warned there would be “difficult decisions” to make at the hospital over the coming weeks.

He said: “It is going to get worse, I think, when we look at the current incident rate in Essex where one in 18 people are believed to have Covid.

“The sorts of numbers we are seeing now are in the hundreds or even above 1,000 per 100,000 people.

“In December we were getting worried when the prevalence reached 100 per 100,000 people.

“We can only deliver what we can and we are making difficult decisions about levels of risk we can manage. We are not working with the staff ratios we would like to.

“But because of the flexibility of staff and their willingness to work different hours and in different departments I am not concerned about the risk in any areas.”

He added: “It is very tight and it is something we are monitoring every few minutes. Whether it is intensive care capacity or pressure on the front door.”