Further rises in Covid-19 cases across hospitals in north Cumbria has led to the trust in charge suspending the majority of outpatient appointments from today to allow for medical staff to be redeployed.

The North Cumbria Integrated Care (NCIC) NHS Trust, which runs north Cumbria's hospitals including the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, has suspended "most outpatient appointments" from today, unless urgent.

The trust described this as a "difficult decision", made as a result of the need for the redeployment of medical staff to be deployed to wards in need of "extra support", in light of the rising number of Covid-19 cases.

This suspension will apply to the Cumberland Infirmary, West Cumberland Hospital and north Cumbria's community sites, from today.

Urgent appointments will "still go ahead", though these will be assessed on a "case by case basis".

The suspension will be in place for two weeks, and reviewed on a weekly basis.

Dr Rod Harpin, medical director at the NCIC trust, said that in the last week, the trust has seen a "doubling" of patients with Covid-19 admitted to its hospitals.

"We are expecting this to increase in the coming weeks", he said.

As of yesterday, there were about 200 Covid-19 positive patients across the trust's sites, more than cared for during the first wave of Covid-19 last year.

"Combined with the fact that many of our staff are having to self-isolate, this brings challenges in delivering our normal services," Dr Harpin explained.

"It is for that reason; we have taken the difficult decision to begin to stand down some routine services including all non- urgent outpatient clinics; and to redeploy staff from these services to assist in maintaining core and emergency services across our hospitals.

“We realise this can be distressing for patients awaiting appointments; however, this decision has been made to prioritise the safety and healthcare needs of our patients.

"We will endeavour to restart all services as soon as it is safe to do so and will continue to share regular updates. We thank all of our patients for their cooperation at this time.”

The trust is contacting all patients affected, so patients are not required to contact the trust.

The trust says anyone who has not been told their appointment is cancelled should attend, along with anyone who is invited to attend - "this means your case will have been assessed and we would like to see you," the trust explained.

"The trust has strict infection prevention measures in place for your safety in the hospital, please wear a mask or face covering, available at the main entrances if you do not have one, use hand sanitisers on entry and exit, stick to the marked one way systems and stay 2m away from others," a statement from the trust read.

"Choose our services wisely – if you have been invited for an appointment, please attend. The NHS is still here for you, but please choose the service most appropriate for their need when they need to access medical help."

This includes:

o 111 – this service provides 24 hour advice on any healthcare need

o Pharmacy – think pharmacy first where there are trained professionals who can prescribe medicines and give advice

o GP – for ongoing or persistent medical issues

o Minor injuries and Urgent Treatment centres – for urgent but not life-threatening issues

o A&E - for life-threatening and serious emergencies only.

"Maternity guidance - If you have any worries regarding your maternity care, your points of contact have not changed. Your midwife is here for you and will be able to discuss your queries."