HOSPITAL bosses are doing “everything they can” to prepare for the expected coronavirus outbreak to peak, as cases in St Helens begin to soar.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in St Helens took a steep turn this week, rising to eight by Tuesday before doubling in just 24 hours.

And on Friday, the number of confirmed cases shot up to 32.

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Cases have also been steadily rising in Knowsley, with 15 confirmed cases at the time of writing.

Some of these cases are currently in Whiston Hospital, a handful of which are in the intensive care unit.

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Whiston Hospital, will not comment on how many patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 have been admitted.

St Helens Star: Whiston Hospital Whiston Hospital

It is understood to be in double figures, however, and NHS bosses are bracing themselves for this to rise significantly in the coming weeks.

“From our point of view, we believe the peak will last a number of weeks,” said Rob Cooper, operational director of St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

“We think it will start to peak in the next week or two.”

When the virus does peak, the cases are expected to increase dramatically.

One of the reasons COVID-19 has had such a devastating impact elsewhere in Europe and around the world is due to the exponential growth of its spread.

This leads to health services, like those in Italy, to be completely overwhelmed, with resources rapidly depleted.

This rapid growth appears to be happening in St Helens, with eight cases quickly jumping to 16, rising to 32 confirmed cases in just 48 hours.

“We’re preparing to increase critical care bed capacity, we’re significantly increasing that,” Mr Cooper said.

“One of the things we’re seeing around the world is that critical care capacity is being completely overwhelmed.

“We’re preparing to get ready for that.”

One of the things that has helped the situation at Whiston Hospital in recent weeks has been the reduction in people coming to A&E.

St Helens Star: Coronavirus pod testing at Whiston Hospital A&ECoronavirus pod testing at Whiston Hospital A&E

Like many hospitals across the country, Whiston Hospital has seen surging attendance levels to its emergency department over the last couple of years.

This has dropped off significantly, and Mr Cooper stressed people need to continue to avoid A&E unless it really is an emergency.

The drop in A&E attendances has subsequently freed up staff to help deal with the outbreak.

The trust has also taken several other steps for this purpose, such as postponing all non-urgent outpatient appointments and surgery.

“We’re freeing up space for our hospital, freeing up all of our workforce,” Mr Cooper said.

“So, our consultants, our nursing staff, our junior doctors, physicians.

“That means we can have that workforce to support them.”

Mr Cooper said the trust is being provided with everything it needs from the government at present.

This includes personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, something that has been a particular cause for concern around the UK.

The operational director said the trust is following the guidance from Public Health England around PPE, with members of staff who are more exposed being provided with a greater level of protection.

Mr Cooper said the trust has had ample time to prepare for what is to come and has also been learning from other countries, such as Spain and Italy.

The former nurse described the scenes in Italy, which has seen some areas completely overwhelmed by the virus, as “really shocking”.

More than 9,134 people have died in Italy, with 919 new coronavirus deaths recorded on Friday, its highest daily figure in the outbreak so far.

There are some small signs of hope however, as Italy’s infection rate has started to decline and is flattening the curve, likely a reaction to the strict lockdown measures that have been in place for several weeks.

St Helens Star: Rob Cooper, operational director of St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.Rob Cooper, operational director of St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

“That has had a huge impact on the general population,” Mr Cooper said.

“One of the things we need people to do is stay at home, stay safe and adhere to social distancing.”

Even with the stringent measures in place here in the UK, the peak of the coronavirus is coming, and it is expected to test NHS staff in ways they never imagined.

On Friday, the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK rose from 578 to 759, the country’s biggest day-on-day increase to date.

In just a short space of time, COVID-19 has infected almost 600,00 people around the globe, 100,000 of those in the USA – the highest number of confirmed cases in the world.

At the time of writing, the number of people confirmed to have died globally as a result of the virus has now surpassed 26,900.

“I never imagined we would ever witness or have to live through something like this,” Mr Cooper said.

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But as grim as the situation is, there are people who will get better if they catch the virus, even if they end up critically ill.

“One of the things we do have to remember is, people do get better,” Mr Cooper said.

“We do have people that have come off ventilators and are doing really well.”