CUMBRIA has seen a surge in deaths caused by Covid-19, with 38 fatalities at the two NHS trusts which have hospitals in the county.

Updated figures seen by the News & Star reveal that the NHS trust which manages both the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven has formally reported 18 deaths.

At the trust which runs Furness General Hospital in south Cumbria, 20 Covid-19 deaths have been confirmed. The figures were compiled by the respected Health Service Journal (HSJ) and updated yesterday afternoon.

The figures became public as the UK-wide death toll from coronavirus rose to 1,789 – the total having risen by 381 in 24 hours. That was the biggest increase in deaths in a single day since the outbreak began.

Commenting on the latest Cumbrian figures for the outbreak, Colin Cox, the county’s Director of Public Health, said: “I have no reason to doubt these figures and I absolutely expect the HSJ figures to be an accurate reflection of the official data.

“NHS England will be updating the figures every day.”

He said that the new figure for deaths in the county did not surprise him.

“I’m sure that we’re still on the upwards trajectory,” he said. “We are still two or three weeks away from the peak of the epidemic and I would expect that figure to keep on rising. It’s going to be hard.”

Mr Cox said the unfolding scale of the tragedy – both locally and nationally in the UK – served to underline the vital and continuing need for people to stick rigidly to the social distancing rules that aim to slow the spread of covid-19 and save lives.

Only by people doing this can time be bought to allow frontline NHS services to cope with the rising number of seriously ill patients.

Over the past week and a half, critical care capacity at Cumbria’s main hospitals in Carlisle, Whitehaven and Barrow had been doubled, he said. There are now about 30 ventilator machines available at The Infirmary and at the hospital in Whitehaven and a similar number at Furness General.

“They’re still operating within their capacity,” said Mr Cox.

“But we expect this outbreak to get considerably worse.”

In the meantime, behind the scenes key agencies across Cumbria are working to expand that critical care capacity, cancelling non-urgent hospital work and exploring ways to increase the available intensive care beds at the county’s three main hospitals.

At a press briefing yesterday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove gave the Government’s latest update on the public health crisis.

He said that hospitals across the country would get extra supplies of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves for medical staff over this coming weekend.