DOZENS of coronavirus patients at the Royal Oldham Hospital are struggling to breathe without medical assistance as bosses reveal they are having to expand their intensive care capacity.

Mike Barker, Oldham clinical commissioning group’s chief operating officer, told a joint health and council meeting that they are planning on increasing the number of intensive care beds in ICU to cope with growing numbers of seriously ill Covid-19 patients.

He said that as of November 10, there were 121 patients in the Oldham Royal Hospital who had tested positive for the virus.

Of these, 19 were on mechanical ventilation, 52 were receiving oxygen and a further 16 were being treated with non-invasive Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) to help them breathe.

“It’s been a very hectic weekend,” Mr Barker said. “On Friday when it really started to heat up a decision was made across Greater Manchester to cancel all elective activity.

“There was an agreement that we need to retain emergency surgery and cancer services irrespective over what happens over this next period of time.

“There are significant challenges we face and we should be under no illusion about those challenges.

“No one wants to make a decision to stand down elective procedures.

“People have been waiting for knee and hip operations for quite a period of time, but equally our ability to run people through the hospital in a safe and effective way is becoming increasingly more constrained.”

He told members they are also preparing to almost double the amount of capacity in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) in preparation for even more seriously ill coronavirus patients.

“Ordinarily in a normal time there are 22 beds in ICU, and we’ve currently opened up that number to 30 and we’ve two left unoccupied at this time,” Mr Barker added.

“It’s highly likely that over the next couple of weeks we will need to expand that further into 39 beds which is our level three plan.

“It’s also fair to say that we are fast becoming tight on the general surgical beds, general admission beds.

“And increasingly we’re going to have to enter into a conversation about what we do with the Nightingale Hospital.”

The second wave of the pandemic has been "significantly impactful" in Oldham, Mr Barker added but he also noted that excess deaths were so far remaining lower than other areas.

“We may well have a high level of transmission and positivity rate but we still remain quite low in our excess death rate compared to lots of other place,” he said.

“Broadly we are finding more and we are treating more but we are not necessarily seeing them materialise into excess death rates.

“As we are now in this period of lockdown one would hope that we are able to better control the community transmission side and indeed the spread of the virus across Oldham.

“We intend to use these next three to four weeks of focusing on a set of adjusted tactics to help with that process, but it will become increasingly challenging.”

Oldham’s director of public health, Katrina Stephens, told the meeting that infection rates within the borough continue to be "exceptionally high" and remain above 700 cases per 100,000 people.

“What’s been particularly concerning over the last couple of weeks has been the increase in the rate, particularly in the over 60s, and that’s concerning because we know that the rate in that age group track particularly closely to increases in hospital admissions and increases in deaths,” she said.

“We’re now in this four weeks of lockdown and I think the critical issue now is us to be looking a t what happens from December 3 onwards.”