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Numbers are heading north as the second wave of the covid pandemic heads south, NHS England’s latest stats show us.

Admissions and bed occupancy is either flattening or declining in health systems in the North West and North East and Yorkshire. Meanwhile, more patients are arriving at hospitals in health systems in the Midlands, with bed occupancy rates rising too.

The adjacent systems covering Lincolnshire and Humber, Coast and Vale are the latest to see their admissions and bed occupancy start to rise quickly. Lincolnshire had 2.3 per cent of its general and acute beds filled with covid patients on 20 October. This was 14.7 per cent on 17 November (both figures seven-day rolling averages).

There are also worrying signs that the pressure of covid is starting to hit the South East in a sustained fashion. Kent’s Medway Foundation Trust is the first acute from that region to see its covid bed occupancy surpass 20 per cent.

Figures issued by NHS England show the number of general and acute beds in trusts is nearly 5,600 lower than the same period last year. This seems to be partly due to beds being removed to allow more distance between them and to aid infection control – Cambridge University Hospitals has lost nearly 100 beds, 10 per cent of its base, because of this.

But even these depressing figures – covering July to September – do not tell the whole story. The beds the NHS has available can’t be used as flexibly as before because of the need to segregate covid and non-covid patients. This is likely to reduce occupancy – some wards may be left half full – but pressure will start to bite at a lower overall occupancy level than before.

The NHS may be left to cope through the winter with Schrodinger’s hospitals: simultaneously full and not full.