Thousands of NHS staff in the South West off sick

Derriford Hospital

Thousands of NHS staff in the South West are off sick - with almost a third of absences due to Covid.

People are now being urged to "play their part" in helping the NHS by getting vaccinated and minimising the spread of coronavirus.

The latest data released by NHS England today (December 23) shows there were 5,719 members of NHS staff off sick as of Sunday December 19- a rise of six per cent compared to a week previously.

A total of 1,682 of those absences were directly related to Covid-19.

The hardest hit hospital trusts were University Hospitals Plymouth which runs Derriford Hospital and reported 772 staff absences. It is the biggest hospital in the region.

It was followed by the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (RD&E) which reported 655 absences and then University Hospitals Dorset, which had 534 staff members off sick.

Elsewhere, Yeovil District Hospital and Royal United Hospitals (RUH) Bath NHS Foundation Trust saw the biggest rises in absences when comparing December 12 to December 19.

Both of the NHS trusts saw an increase of 19% - meaning in Bath there were 421 staff members off sick as of December 19 compared to 354 the previous week. In Yeovil, it rose from 123 to 147.

North Bristol Trust - which runs Southmead Hospital in Bristol - experienced the third steepest increase (13%) - rising from 360 to 408.

It comes at a time hospitals in the region are facing a sustained period of pressure due to Covid patients, the growing backlog of life-saving treatments and staff shortages.

ITV News has contacted all of the NHS trusts mentioned for comment.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged staff absences due to Covid are adding to pressures on the NHS but said the easing of self-isolation rules would help.

“The NHS workforce was already under pressure before Omicron came along. There is increased pressure in many workforces at the moment, especially if someone needs to isolate if they have a positive case,” he told broadcasters.

The self-isolation period has been cut from 10 days to seven in England with negative tests

“Some of the recent moves we have had, moving from 10-day to seven isolation if you take a test in the last two days, I think all of that will help.”

A spokesperson for Derriford said: "As with most hospitals the winter period and the pandemic has affected our sickness and absence rates.

"All of our colleagues have worked tremendously hard throughout a tough year, whether clinical or non-clinical, working from home, shielding or adapting in their normal roles, and we would like to thank them all for their dedication.”

An RUH spokesperson told ITV News: “Patient care remains our top priority and we are working hard to mitigate against the impact of the latest wave of the pandemic on our staffing levels.  

“This includes working within the national guidance to safely minimise the number of staff having to self-isolate as a result of contact with people who have tested positive.

“We are also actively recruiting for permanent staff and for staff who would like flexible shifts on our bank, and would encourage anyone who would like to join the RUH team to apply via the NHS Jobs website.”

A spokesperson for Yeovil Hospital said they "continually monitor staff sickness to take action quickly and maintain safe services for patients."

They added: "These figures show the challenge that hospitals like ours are facing this winter and the importance of people playing their part to help the NHS and to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

"That means getting fully vaccinated, and making informed choices about the right service for your needs.”

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