THE numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in Gwent have dropped steadily in recent weeks, but front-line health workers are already bracing themselves for what could be a tough winter.

The impact of Covid-19 in the colder months is still relatively unknown, but doctors at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport are preparing for the possibility of a second wave of the virus at a time of year when the NHS is normally at its busiest.

Speaking to the Argus yesterday, emergency medicine consultant Tim Rogerson said there was "concern" among colleagues that typical winter pressures and demand for beds could be made worse by a resurgent Covid-19.

Futher complications could arise due to the need for social distancing in hospitals, he added.

"Where we’re at now is normal for July emergency department attendance, and that’s without the minor injury numbers being as high," Dr Rogerson said. "We’re still seeing unwell people, and that’s before the minor [injury patients] come back, so we’re obviously concerned that when the full numbers come back – with social distancing, all the PPE, and still with coronavirus cases coming in – then we’re going to face a challenge."

Asked how members of the public could help reduce the stress on hospitals in the coming months, Dr Rogerson said: "I think the public health [advice] is absolutely key, but in emergency care we really need to focus on people making the right decisions and not putting themselves at risk [by] not having injuries, and also how they access emergency care.

"Do they need to attend an emergency department? Could they ring 111 for advice? Could they ring their GP? Because we have limited space in comparison to what we had previously, and with social distancing, that does mean that we have to work in a very different way."

David Hepburn, an intensive care consultant at the Royal Gwent, said he and his colleagues had been busy analysing every Covid-19 case that passed through their ward over the past few months.

"We’re not going to stop, because we’ve got the prospect of winter," Dr Hepburn said, adding: "I like to err on the side of optimism, but im worried, because the predictions are for trouble in the winter, and that would be a combination of two things – flu and Covid hitting at the same time.

"Interestingly, if you look at the Australian data, they haven’t had a big flu season this year because the lockdown has reduced flu transmission as well. And if that happens we might be ok – we’ll have to wait and see."

Asked about the approach taken in Wales to the public health crisis, Dr Hepburn said it had been done "pretty well".

"Hopefully [the pandemic] is a once in a lifetime thing," he said. "I think nobody gets everything right first time, and we’ve all had to adapt from our initial plans, and I think the Welsh Government has had to do that as well.

"But I think that taking a slightly different direction from England, keeping the flow of information to people local, and the response of the public to the lockdown – people have done a brilliant job in Wales, and we’ve been rewarded by seeing how low our infection rate is at the minute."

He added: "I think they played a blinder by just being a little bit more conservative and not giving in to the voices of dissent, but just being slow and steady in their direction."