A union responsible for representing nurses has described the situation as “very serious” at north and west Cumbria’s NHS trust as staff deal with “unprecedented demand” due to coronavirus.

The Royal College of Nursing has spoken with nurses serving on the frontline across the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust.

The NHS definition of the conditions triggering an Opel 4 Alert state: “Pressure in the local health and social care system continues to escalate leaving organisations unable to deliver comprehensive care. There is increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised.”

Speaking after a surge of Covid-19 admissions at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven and Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary, Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said: “The situation is very serious. NHS Trusts and health and social care providers across Cumbria are trying their best to cope with unprecedented demand.

“Staff are under immense pressure and struggling to manage.

“Our members at NCIC tell us that they are caring for more than 170 Covid-19 positive patients and anticipate more admissions in the coming days. The sheer number of patients means there is congestion and delays within the emergency departments, particularly at the Cumberland Infirmary site.

“Whilst community nursing staff report an increase in Covid-19 outbreaks in the community.”

Mr Turp says the problems were present before Covid-19.

“The NHS was already critically short of 40,000 Registered Nursing staff," he explained. After a first and now a second wave of coronavirus, increasing numbers of staff are going off sick with Covid-19, mental health issues or stress related illnesses.

“Exhaustion is a real concern as nursing staff are feeling burnt out and demoralised. The pandemic combined with staff shortages across the NHS has made a dangerous situation even worse.

“The NHS has been neglected by the Westminster Government for too long.

“Until they show they truly value nursing staff and pay them what they deserve and provide a safe working environment, then they will not resolve the nursing workforce crisis.”

The Government says it hopes to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2025.

The North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust urged people to only leave their homes for reasons within the Government guidelines and to choose the health service most suitable to their condition.