EXTRA beds are being made available in hospitals across the region as health chiefs brace themselves for an expected influx of Covid-19 patients.

Emergency facilities for people with breathing problems have been set up at Darlington Memorial Hospital and University Hospital of North Durham and bosses have changed some wards to increase the critical care capacity.

As the global pandemic continues to take hold across the county the figures for patients testing positive for coronavirus in the North-East, and the rate of fatality, has risen sharply in the past few weeks.

According to the Public Health England, Darlington now has 23 confirmed cases, while in County Durham there are 120.

The website said 24 people with the virus across the region have now died.

A spokesperson for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Like other trusts across the NHS, we have been putting plans in place so that should we see increasing numbers of patients with Covid-19, we will be ready to given them the care they need while keeping them separate from other patients.

“We have introduced separate emergency departments for patients with respiratory problems at both University Hospital of North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital and a series of co-ordinated ward moves will increase our critical care capacity should it be needed.

“In addition to our two acute hospitals and Bishop Auckland Hospital, we benefit from having community hospitals which are playing their part in our planning and giving us increased flexibility if it’s required.

“At The Richardson and Sedgefield Community Hospitals we now have 24 beds available, should they be needed, up from 16, and at the Weardale we have 20 beds, also up from 16.

“We’re very grateful to those in our communities across County Durham and Darlington for supporting us in the best way possible by following the guidance on social isolation and staying at home.”

Changes include the cancellation of non-urgent operations and routine outpatient appointments, however emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other urgent clinical care remains unaffected where possible.

Visitors are being restricted to one per patient, including on children’s wards where only one parent can see their youngster.

Maternity units are restricted to one birthing partner only with no visitors to post-natal wards.

Professor Chris Gray, medical director for Cumbria and the North-East, said: “This is an important step we must take to ensure we free-up beds and staff, so we can care for the most critically ill in these unprecedented times. Please bear with us and thank you for your support.

“I’d also like to take this opportunity to urge people to help us during these unprecedented times by using NHS services sensibly and social distancing.”