A Norfolk hospital was “completely full” on Tuesday of this week - in a challenge worsened by record staff sickness levels.

Anna Hills, chief executive of the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH), said the situation had changed radically in the last two and a half weeks, calling it “one of the most challenging times, or the most challenging time, that the trust has ever seen”.

“On Christmas Eve, we had 13 inpatients with Covid, and we’d had single figures, low teens, for a long while,” said Ms Hills.

“Currently, we have 51 patients in the hospital with Covid.

“That means we’ve had to extend our Covid patients into other wards - so we have one infection control ward, we’ve had to extend into a second ward, and then this week we’ve had to extend into a third ward.

“On top of that, four other wards are impacted, in that they have patients who have incidentally become Covid positive once they’ve been with us - [but] they’ve been admitted for another reason.”

She estimated that “probably half the hospital” was hit by Covid infections, which made the ordinary winter pressures, such as norovirus, even harder.

“On top of that, we’ve got staff sickness levels the likes of which we’ve never seen before," said Ms Hills.

"Our sickness absence rate normally is around about 4pc.

“Currently it's at 11pc and that’s been mostly driven by Covid related sickness, but actually by isolation - so people who are contacts of household members, meaning that they can’t work clinically.”

She said the trust was in a “really fortunate position” however because it had few vacancies.

“In fact for our registered nursing staff, we have a zero vacancy rate, so compared to some other trusts, the sickness impact isn’t as significant,” said Ms Hills, who gave the update at Wednesday meeting of the hospital's council of governors.

She added that improvements had been made in terms of ambulance handover delays but that the hospital had recently endured full capacity.

“We’re actually operating today at 98pc occupancy, yesterday 100pc occupancy, so the whole of our hospital was completely full”.

She said however the hospital had successfully stepped up to increase the number of Covid vaccines offered.

Some 150,000 shots have now been administered by the hospital.

More than 95pc of staff at the hospital have now had two jabs, and 85pc have had their boosters.