NHS staff and care homes in Dorset have been praised for their work in helping prepare the county for the expected worsening of the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Steve Tomkins, Dorset HealthCare medical director, said they were working closely with hospitals to make sure people could be discharged as soon as possible to free-up beds.

It comes as the trust has made minor injuries units and urgent treatment centres appointment only with staff moved to more essential services.

The urgent treatment centre in Weymouth and minor injuries units in Blandford, Bridport, Portland, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Swanage and Wimborne all fall under the new arrangements.

Non-urgent elective operations have also all been cancelled for the next three months.

Minor injuries units can instead be contacted by calling 01305 762541.

But Dr Tomkins urged people to use NHS services "only when absolutely necessary".

“We know many people will be unsettled and concerned by changes to NHS services, and fully understand that," he said. "However, these changes are absolutely necessary to ensure we can effectively manage the current outbreak, keep people safe and, ultimately, save lives.

“We will be contacting people about cancelled operations and appointments, and anyone else directly affected, as soon as possible."

He said the reduction in services would allow staff to be "redeployed" to areas where their skills are most needed.

It has also allowed the trust to ramp up its work in discharging patients from hospitals across the county to free up beds for coronavirus patients.

"This has been progressing really well and the work of our staff has been incredible," he added. "What we are doing now is making sure anyone in hospital is only there for as little time as they need."

This has involved ramping up work with care homes across the county. However, some have stopped accepting new residents to reduce the risk of the virus being spread.

“The vast majority of care homes have been absolutely wonderful,” he said. “There are a handful that have been a bit more cautious but we are being open with them and telling them the truth about the risks there are but also the steps they can take to mitigate them."

He urged people who were at home to make sure they take care of both their mental and physical health, including stopping smoking.