This winter at Queen’s and Kings George hospitals is “not notably worse” than pre-Covid, according to the chief of the trust which runs them.

Matthew Trainer, chief executive at Barking, Havering and Redbridge Universities NHS Trust (BHRUT), made the comment during his report to the trust’s board on Tuesday, January 11.

He told the board while there were a “significant number” of Covid-19 patients at the hospital, many were “incidental Covid” patients – meaning they are being treated for other things in addition to Covid.

Mr Trainer also said the use of oxygen was lower than 12 months ago.

Additionally, latest figures from the two hospitals showed the rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations was slowing.

“What we are seeing is that removal of that very clear link between the case numbers that are published, the numbers coming into hospitals, and the number of really critically unwell patients,” he said.

“The vast majority of people who are ending up in intensive care are people who have not had the vaccination.

“What we have seen is a really quite different profile in terms of clinical severity according to those kinds of numbers that we would have seen a year ago.”

He said infection control was one of the main challenges because it limited usable capacity.

“In previous winters where we would perhaps have used surgical wards for medical patients to reduce pressure, we can’t do that now, so we have lost some of that fluidity and flexibility on the site because of infection prevention and control,” he said.

He said staff sickness had also been “a really significant issue for us”, but noted that rates had been notably lower than some of the more dire forecasts.

He said: “In the run up to Christmas, I think there was fears that we would be looking at 30 per cent sickness rates and that was what some of the modelling and planning was based on.

“Ours has peaked so far at around 6.9pc and today [Tuesday] is back down below five pc.”

According to figures for the week up to January 9, 317 of the trust's workforce of more than 7,000 were off-sick, with 177 suffering from Covid-19.

Mr Trainer added the sickness rates were “still enough to make things difficult” and noted they had been given additional support from nine military staff in intensive care.