Hospitals in Wales are almost full due to a surge in the number of patients with coronavirus, the director of the Welsh NHS Confederation has said.
Darren Hughes warned that more hospitals around the country could soon suspend non-urgent care after two health boards said they were doing so in response to a large increase in cases.
The warning came as health minister Vaughan Gething said more than 14,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 had been recorded in Wales in the last week, while an intensive care consultant called for the planned relaxation of rules over Christmas to be aborted and the country put into immediate lockdown.
He said: “I have said many times that nobody in the NHS wants this to be the case, but if we have a rising number of patients with coronavirus, we simply may not have the capacity to treat other non-urgent health issues.
“Our capacity is not just about the number of beds we have available but also about our staff. If community transmission is high, more staff go off sick or have to self-isolate as well.
“We ask everyone in the run-up to Christmas to please reduce your social contacts as much as possible. We want everyone in Wales to be able to have a happy and safe Christmas, and if we work together we can bring case rates down and have a greater reassurance that a safe Christmas is possible.”
On Monday, Swansea Bay University Health Board said it was postponing some non-urgent surgery at Neath Port Talbot Hospital and all non-essential face-to-face appointments at all its sites to free up beds in response to Covid-19 pressures.
Figures calculated by the PA news agency show Neath Port Talbot’s latest seven-day case rate is 722.2 per 100,000 of the population, second only to Merthyr Tydfil’s 822.2.
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which covers Newport and Caerphilly, two areas in the top six of Wales’s worst case rate areas, postponed all non-urgent care on Saturday because of Covid pressures.
One of the health board’s intensive care consultants, Ami Jones, said on Monday that Wales should go into lockdown now and “write Christmas off” to save lives.
“I really worry about Christmas. I really worry about people taking those risks because they want to see family and the implications of all those new bubbles of people mixing and the increase in numbers it will cause.
“We need to do something. I think a lot of us would rather it happen now and we just write Christmas off but I get that it would be massively unpopular.”
At Monday’s Welsh Government press briefing, Mr Gething said preventing the NHS in Wales from becoming overwhelmed was “in the hands of each and every one of us” ahead of the planned easing of restrictions over Christmas.
He said it was not the Welsh Government’s preference to change the easing of restrictions between December 23 and 27, but added: “If the virus continues to grow, then we’ll need to make choices to keep people safe.”
But Mr Gething denied the Welsh Government was sending contradictory messages to the public by asking them at the briefing “not to mix with people you don’t live with”, after First Minister Mark Drakeford said on Friday he planned to use the rule to meet with people from outside his own home.
“We’re asking people to think of what they can do. How can you reduce your contact as low as possible,” Mr Gething said.
“We know that some people will nevertheless go to the maximum and beyond. So we’re unfortunately expecting a bump in cases after Christmas.”
Mr Gething said the previous weekend had been busiest of the year for the NHS, with hospital capacity partially being taken up by hundreds of people recovering from Covid-19 because they were still testing positive weeks later despite no longer being infectious.
He also announced that care home residents in Wales will begin to be vaccinated from Wednesday, with a rollout in other areas of the country before Christmas.