Hundreds of hospital staff absent due to Covid

Almost 500 staff at a hospital trust were off work because of Covid in one day– and the number of patients with the virus is the highest level seen for several months.

Stafford County Hospital
Stafford County Hospital

Internal action is being taken to ensure urgent cancer treatment and elective care can continue to be provided by University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) NHS Trust, bosses were told this week. It will also enable the trust, which runs Royal Stoke Hospital and Stafford’s County Hospital, to prepare for the Easter period and focus on patient flow through departments.

Covid-19 continues to prove a challenge to the trust – and on Wednesday there were 478 staff off work as a result.  This included staff who were self-isolating or had children who were isolating and Covid-19 accounted for more than 40% of absences.

But UHNM’s chief operating officer Paul Bytheway stressed that a critical incident had not been declared, as was the case in January due to coronavirus pressures and high demand for services.

He said: “We are now up to over 260 Covid patients in the organisation. That’s the highest number we have had for a considerable number of months and higher than January.

“Fortunately we are not seeing many who are very unwell. Critical care has not been overwhelmed which is good.

“We have been able to continue with as much operating as we can in terms of recovery, recognising the challenges we have with sickness levels and the increase in Covid in the community. We are in quite a precarious situation, in which one of many important competing priorities do we focus on.

“We are clear quality and safety of patient and staff experience is what we need to maintain – that’s what we are here for. At the moment we are able to cope and we are functioning,

“There are some cancellations but not a huge amount. We have spaces in critical care.

Although national coronavirus restrictions have been lifted – and free lateral flow tests for the general public ended last week – measures such as face masks and hand sanitiser are still in use at UHNM.

Board member Andrew Hassell said: “I have found the national messaging around lateral flow tests incredibly confusing.”

Mr Bytheway responded: “We haven’t changed any of our regimes at the moment. We are still working through the changes and what the patient testing regime will look like. There are some challenges with getting lateral flow tests, but we so far we have not encountered any significant challenges.

“We introduced social distancing restrictions across the organisation because of national guidance and that was based on risk assessment of areas where immunosuppressed patients are. We would ask for a risk assessment to reverse that decision should it be needed.

“We are still social distancing in theatres, but in diagnostic and outpatient areas where it is deemed safe we are reducing social distancing.”

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