Exhausted NHS staff are bracing themselves for a difficult couple of months, but "there is nothing we can do" to make the situation better, a health boss has said.

West Suffolk Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is not alone in facing huge winter pressures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which is impacting on waiting times and staffing levels.

At a meeting of the trust board today, Craig Black, interim chief executive of the trust, said it was important to convey "how busy it is" across the hospital and the community and the impact that is having on people who are already "exhausted".

He said: "We have been through coming up to two years of this now without a break and people are not only stretched, but I think the fact that having experienced last winter we have an idea of what is to come.

"And although I think we have learnt a lot from what happened last winter, there is nothing we can do to make it better."

He said a combination of the current pressures and "having an idea of what is about to come" in the next month or two was "really hard" for staff.

He added: "As well as having to deal with the impact of the pandemic at work, we are also having to deal with the same issues everyone in the community is having to deal with outside of work whether that is relatives or family who are ill or kids sent home from school and needing looking after.

"We have an organisation whose workforce is 80% female and the burden of things like childcare doesn't fall evenly across our workforce."

He said the trust was continuing with little things to make sure staff feel supported, like free coffees and free parking, but "we are absolutely not doing enough".

"It feels a bit inadequate," he said. "We are doing more than some other organisations. We are trying to look around the rest of the NHS to identify good practice."

The sickness rate for nursing assistants (NAs) and registered nurses was higher in October than it has been since January 2021, with a rate of 8.29% for NAs.

Dan Spooner, deputy chief nurse, told the meeting: "The challenges are real and we do all we can to mitigate on a daily basis. We do that really well and the staff are tremendously flexible."

Karen Newbury, head of midwifery, said her biggest area of concern was staffing.

"We want to introduce continuity of carer and we cannot do that without extra staff," she said.

The hospital trust is facing the aftermath of a scathing report into how it handled whistleblowing over patient safety.