By Alex Metcalfe Local Democracy Reporter

Hospital bosses have sounded worries of a “third wave” of coronavirus cases as a Teesside trust faces high demand in the run up to Christmas.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust saw a peak of 78 covid patients on its wards during the first wave.

Although treatments have improved since, teams at North Tees are now caring for more than 160 covid patients  – with almost half of all beds taken up by those suffering from the virus.

And there are fears allowing up to three households to meet between December 23 and December 27 will put further strain on staff and capacity in the new year.

Medical director Dr Deepak Dwarakanath said North Tees had the highest number of covid patients out of any hospital in the North-east.

He added: “It’s a huge pressure on the organisation – particularly when we’re maintaining urgent surgery, emergency surgery and cancer surgery.

“We’re also continuing with screening activities in breast and bowel screening and outpatients.

“It’s quite a different situation from wave one – total numbers of admissions have dropped a little bit compared to the numbers we’d normally see as this time of year.

“But we still have large numbers of non-covid cases coming in as well as covid whereas during wave one it was purely covid for several weeks.

“We don’t want that to happen again because I’m sure people were disadvantaged by staying at home.”

Data from NHS England has shown patients had to be diverted from North Tees A&E twice in the week ending December 6 due to high demands.

Dr Dwarakanath told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the prospect of a third wave of covid was a “massive concern”.

He added: “If the third wave is precipitated, by either a change in tiers from three to two, or by the five day Christmas break in restrictions, that will probably occur somewhere in the first two to three weeks of January.

“There is a fair chance with the numbers we have in the hospital at present that we will still have a significant number of covid patients in the building.

“We’ll be building wave three on top of an elevated number already so within a couple of weeks that will put us under considerable pressure.”

On Thursday, the medical director told BBC Look North how he had “grave concerns” about how mixing at Christmas could lead to a third wave in the new year.

Chief nurse Lindsey Robertson told the BBC times were tough for staff and teams were “really tired”.

She said: “The nursing and therapy staff are working relentlessly to meet the needs of all the covid patients we’re seeing – not just covid patients.

“People are fairly weary and struggling to come up with other solutions to what we’re seeing every day because they’re so tired I think.

“We really need people to still follow the rules  – I know it’s really tough and it’s tough for all of us as we want to be with our families but they’re some of the difficult choices we’ve got to make at this time.”

Meanwhile, neighbouring South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust is continuing to see a plateau in covid demands.

It is understood the trust south of the river is treating 85 patients with 10 in critical care at James Cook University Hospital as of 11 December.

This is slightly down from the 95 covid patients and 12 people in critical care on 1 December.

However, the five day Christmas rule change is also firmly on the minds of health chiefs south of the river.

A trust spokesperson said: “The community has done fantastically well and has made so many sacrifices.

“It’s just another appeal to them to dig deeper at this particular moment.”

It is understood Local Government Minister Robert Jenrick met Tees Valley council leaders and leaders from authorities north of Teesside to discuss rates and figures tiers decision.

Conservative MPs in the Tees Valley have pushed to see the region moved to Tier Two of covid restrictions when the Government reviews the rules next on 16 December.

But Teesside Labour MPs way they wanted to see the region stay in the top tier of restrictions over fears rates are still too high – and a change would lead to the NHS being overwhelmed in the New Year.

An announcement on tiers is expected on 17 December.