NHS staff sickness spikes in South West's hospitals amid Covid pressures

The number of NHS staff off sick or isolating in the South West hit more than 7,500 at the start of the year, new figures reveal.

At its worst, there were more than 3,000 staff members off as a direct result of coronavirus.

Figures released today (January 7) reveal there was a 95% rise in staff absences from December 2 to January 2. The number of staff off sick because of Covid-19 went from 1,534 to 2,998.

It comes after more than six of the region's 15 acute NHS trusts declared "critical incidents" over the bank holiday as they faced growing pressure amid rising numbers of Covid patients and staff shortages.

Many hospitals are operating with hundreds of their staff absent at any given time.

Which trusts have been impacted the most?

The latest data available covers January 2 and shows University Hospitals Trust Plymouth was the hardest hit, with 921 staff absent in total.

The number of staff off at the Trust - which runs the biggest hospital in the region at Derriford - breached 1,000 twice in the week leading up to January 2 - peaking at 1,021 on December 31.

Speaking earlier this week, the Trust's Chief Operating Officer Jo Beer confirmed a critical incident had been declared and said: "This is due to the high pressure on urgent care services and increasing demand for Covid beds. 

Derriford Hospital has been severely hit by staff shortages - with more than 500 staff off as a direct result of Covid

"We don't want people to be alarmed by this. We took the decision to escalate to the highest level of internal incident because this allows us to be able to take additional steps to maintain safe services for our patients and help us cope with the growing pressures.

"Please be assured, we are still here for you, if need us, in an emergency."

As of January 2, Royal United Hospitals (RUH) Bath had the second-highest total number of absences after Plymouth, at 762, followed by Royal Devon and Exeter at 711.

The RUH had the highest number of Covid-related absences in the region, with 610 of its staff unable to work due to either having the virus or having to isolate.

University Hospitals Trust Plymouth had the second highest number of Covid-related absences at 482, followed by University Hospitals Bristol and Weston - which runs the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Weston General Hospital - at 285.

What is being done to relieve pressure?

A Nightingale 'surge hub' will be built in north Bristol to tackle the rising number of Covid patients in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

The local health and social care system is operating at its highest state of alert as the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid has more than doubled in just two weeks.

Multiple trusts are also operating under internal 'critical incidents' which means they can take additional steps to maintain safe services for patients to help them cope with demand.

This might include opening up extra beds and ward space as well as request additional staff.

If pressure doesn't ease on individual hospitals, other hospitals may be able to take on some of their patients.

People urged to get boosted

Peter Brindle, Medical Director at NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: 

“We are urging everyone to get boosted now, use services wisely and support friends and family in hospital to be discharged promptly.

"Staff across health and social care are going to incredible lengths in the most challenging circumstances right now – we are asking the public to continue to treat them with kindness and respect.”

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