THIS winter will be more challenging than any other, a medical chief has warned, as coronavirus continues to have an impact on NHS services.

Dr Andrew Goodall, chief executive of NHS Wales, said NHS services have already been impacted by the growth and spread of coronavirus, which is likely to get worse over the next few months.

At the Welsh Government press conference on October 14, he explained the pressures that the NHS is currently facing.

He said: “We have four levels of escalation in NHS Wales to reflect the pressures. In July, most hospital sites were green or Level One. Today, there are 12 hospitals reporting levels three or four, which shows an increase in pressure.

“Today (October 14) there are just over 700 Covid-related patients in Welsh hospitals. This is 49 per cent more than last week. This is the highest number since late June.

“The number of confirmed Covid cases is 326 which is 70 per cent higher than two weeks ago.

“This is about half the number than at the peak in April, but I am concerned at the rising trend. Demand for beds from people with coronavirus will continue to increase in the days and weeks ahead.”

Dr Goodall said that an increase in community transmission will lead to an increase in hospital admissions, critical care admissions and an increase in deaths.

He added that as we see a rising number of hospital admissions, it is inevitable there will be a further impact on the NHS and the ability to maintain and deliver all aspects of services.

This is because services will need to change and adapt to be able to manage the virus.

Dr Goodall said 10 percent of 999 calls relate to Covid-19 symptoms. As a result of this, it can take a paramedic up to 6-minuts to put on their PPE, which has an impact on the speed of the response where ‘time is of the essence’.

He went on to say that the ambulance then must be cleaned between calls so that vehicle is taken off the road.

The number of operations and procedures being carried out has also been affected as enhanced safety measures have been in place.

Due to the enhanced infection control, deep contamination cleaning and changes in PPE, time between each surgery has increased by 50 per cent, leading to a reduced number of procedures being carried out.

The chief exec added: “ I wanted to give an insight into how NHS activity has been impacted by the pandemic. In March we took the decision to postpone planned operations and appointments to enable the NHS to respond to coronavirus whilst maintaining essential services.

“Restarting the NHS is a difficult process, especially since there is still so much we don’t know about coronavirus.

“We have seen a gradual return to normal levels of activity in emergency departments since June.

“We’ve seen the number of referred cancer treatments recover but treatment activity levels are 10 per cent lower than normal.

“Demand for mental health support reduced significantly but we are now close to what we would expect for this time of year. We are expecting that demand to increase.”

Dr Goodall said the biggest impact has been to waiting lists, with people waiting over 36-weeks for services.

He added it will ‘take time to address these waits’.

He said: “Based on the current trends I am concerned about the impact of the current growth of coronavirus on the NHS services and the speed in which coronavirus is spreading in Wales.”

He said they plan to continue responding to the coronavirus pressures whilst maintaining NHS activity ‘as much as possible for as long as possible’.

However, the higher the levels of community transmission, the more difficult this becomes.

He added: “I anticipate that this winter will be more challenging than any I have experienced in my professional career.”

At the press conference, he said plans are in place for the winter, including 5,000 additional beds – a ten times more than usual - and an enhanced flu vaccination process.

He added that despite the enhanced measures in place in hospitals and care homes, it is likely we will see an increase in positive cases as the virus is ‘invisible’.

He went on the say Wales is ‘facing a difficult winter’ but residents must play their part and ‘together we will keep Wales safe’.

When asked about a travel ban or circuit-breaker being introduced in Wales, he said decisions on these will be made in the coming days but he will support any measures that will allow them to control the transmission of the virus.