PEOPLE have been urged to stay at home to give the NHS in Dorset “a fighting chance” at coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals trust medical director, Alyson O’Donnell said preparation for the expected escalation in cases was well underway.

But she urged people to stay at home as much as possible, saying it could be the difference between hospitals being able to manage or not.

“I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to stay at home," she said. "There’s been some modelling about how we would be affected if certain percentages of people stay at home and what it shows is that if people stay at home then we have got a fighting chance at getting through this well."

Work to expand capacity at Royal Bournemouth Hospital has been ongoing for several weeks with the cancellation of elective operations freeing up beds.

Walls have also been built in wards to reduce the spread of the virus.

She said there was an increasing number of people being admitted to the hospital with coronavirus symptoms but that, roughly in line with the national figure, only about ten per cent were testing positive.

“We are really fortunate that we have just had a little bit more time compared to other parts of the country," she added. “We have been working really hard to prepare, not just for the next week or two but for the coming months.

“We are learning from other areas constantly but the reality is we are all preparing for something we have never seen before in our lifetimes."

Discussions have been held by the NHS on a regional basis about identifying the need for field hospitals but there have been no talks between organisations in Dorset as of yet.

Addressing concerns about the supply of personal protective equipment such as masks for staff, she said the trust was now "fully compliant" with Public Health England Guidance.