READING'S Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH) has hit back at claims that it is at risk of being "overwhelmed".

It comes as national press yesterday (January 10) reported on UK trusts currently "on the brink" of becoming overstretched, after an NHS document was leaked.

The Sun reported that findings show that RBH, among other hospitals, are at high risk.

The NHS data, reportedly seen by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), shows which intensive care units are predicted to reach full capacity, with a list of hospitals currently at Critcon level 3 - meaning they are at "full stretch".

READ MORE: The SIX areas in Reading with the highest Covid case rates

The RBH is one of 10 trusts shown as being at Critcon three, while one in Dartford, Kent, is now in Critcon four - the highest possible alert level which means the trust’s resources are "overwhelmed".

The HSJ also said that RBH is at 160 per cent of its baseline occupancy level of beds for critical care, with Darent Valley Hospital, the only one currently at Critcon level four, at 173 per cent.

Additionally, the publication claimed that, for level three patients - the highest urgency level - 66 per cent of beds are occupied at RBH.

The data comes a week on from Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement of a fourth national lockdown following a sharp increase in cases amid a new, more infectious variant.

Nicky Lloyd, acting Chief Executive Officer for the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Whilst we are caring for a large number of Covid patients, the situation at the Royal Berkshire is under control and we have robust plans in place to maintain this stability, keep patients, and staff, safe and ensure everyone who comes to the hospital in need of urgent or emergency care is properly looked after.

"It would be wrong to say we are on the verge of being overwhelmed.

"We have a hugely hard working and committed workforce who are helping us manage the situation in a calm and co-ordinated way.

"We are fortunate to have a number of Trust sites across Berkshire West and we are using the facilities and teams there to help ease pressure on the RBH.

"Staff are being redeployed where appropriate so we can continue to focus on treating the patients with Covid alongside the other very sick people we have on our wards."

'The worst to come'

Officials have said that the UK has not yet hit the peak of the current wave of Covid-19 infection, with the next few weeks being "the worst" of the pandemic for the NHS, England's chief medical officer has warned.

Professor Chris Whitty said the vaccine rollout offered hope that lockdown restrictions could be lifted in the coming months, but described the current UK death rate as "appalling".

During a BBC phone-in on the current high case rates, he said: "I don't think we're yet at the peak, I'm afraid.

"I think we will be at the peak if everybody can double down and absolutely minimise their contacts.

"The point of the lockdown is to bring that forward, but it only works if everyone really thinks about every individual interaction they have and try and minimise them."

Prof Whitty said the the new variant of coronavirus was causing a "significant problem", telling BBC Breakfast: "We will get through together, but at this point in time we're at the worst point in the epidemic for the UK."

Asked if coronavirus is being spread outdoors, Prof Whitty said the risks were much lower than for indoors, but said problems could occur if people gathered in groups, such as huddled round a market stall.

READ MORE: Oliver Stephens murder case: Police investigations continue at Bugs Bottom

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reportedly discussed the prospect of introducing tougher controls to ensure the public abide by the restrictions, such as stopping people exercising with one other person.

Prof Whitty told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the risks from, for example, jogging past someone were "very low", but said there could be an argument for wearing masks in some circumstances.

"If people for example are crowded together in a queue outdoors, if they're really huddled together round a market stall or something - that is a risk with this virus - and in that situation there might be some logic to people thinking about wearing masks."