The number of patients treated for coronavirus at Great Western Hospital has been dropping over the past few weeks - but non-Covid admissions remain high.

The hospital was caring for six Covid-19 patients as of Wednesday, none of them in intensive care.

Chief executive Kevin McNamara said: “This is considerably lower number than we have seen in previous weeks and months and reflects the reduced level of the virus in the community and successful roll-out of the vaccination programme.

“We do know that this area is seeing slightly higher case rates compared with other parts of the country, so it’s still important that everybody continues to follow the government guidance around social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing, particularly with the easing of lockdown, so we can continue to keep people out of hospital.”

The hospital has been able to turn the extra intensive care capacity back into regular operating theatre space after having to expand ICU earlier this year.

“We have already been able to call more patients in for elective surgery and begin the long process to clear some of our bac log of appointments,” Mr McNamara said. “I appreciate that a lot of people will have been waiting a long time to be seen and getting these people the treatment they need, as soon as safely possible, is an absolute priority for us.”

But there has been a significant increase in non-Covid urgent and emergency care admissions.

“It is much higher than we would normally see this time of year when we look at yearly comparisons from before Covid.

“Of course, people should come to the emergency department or urgent treatment centre if they need to, but we would also encourage people to consider other healthcare options such as pharmacies and GPs. If you’re ever not sure what to do call NHS111.”

 Staff have been working under pressure for the past year and January saw the highest number of Covid patients at any one time - 159. At that point the hospital had to declare a critical incident.

The trust was looking at bringing extra staff from across the region to help with the increasing number of patients.

“Our staff have worked incredibly hard during the pandemic, and are continuing to do so,” Mr McNamara said. “Their focus remains on providing the best level of patient care to everyone who needs it, but we are also ensuring that staff are safely looked after and receiving the support they need, with our comprehensive 24/7 health and wellbeing package.

“I’d also like to thank local communities for their ongoing support.”