Doctor says NHS 'is coping at expense of patient care' as Omicron spreads

  • Watch Dr Emma Coombe's interview

A doctor has spoken out about the state of hospitals during the pandemic - saying the NHS is "coping at the expense of patient care".

Hospitals in Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire remain at Opel 4 - the highest level of alert.

The Royal United Hospital in Bath has declared an internal critical incident due to staff sickness and availability of beds.

It currently has 68 patients with Covid or suspected Covid and 610 staff off due to the virus.

Paediatric junior doctor, Emma Coombe, who works across the South West has experiences of working in the NHS but also being a patient too.

'Omicron has pushed things just that little bit further'

She said: "It’s been quite stressful to be honest but I know I’m not different to any other patient in our region who’s having difficulties accessing the care that they need whilst our hospital services and GP services are under such strain at the moment.

"I think it’s really difficult because we’ve seen the NHS struggle winter after winter for the last few years because of staffing vacancies and a decade of austerity has really taken its toll on our hospital services.

"But Omicron has pushed things just that little bit further."

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

Derriford Hospital (left) and Royal United Bath Hospital (right) have both experienced staff shortages during the pandemic Credit: ITV News

At its worst, there were more than 3,000 staff members off as a direct result of coronavirus. The number of staff off sick because of Covid-19 went from 1,534 to 2,998 across the period December 2 to January 2.

Dr Coombe said: "It feels like a slap in the face to hear politicians say the NHS is coping when we, on the receiving end as patients, and doctors and nurses providing care can see that the standards that are being provided are not what we’d want to deliver.

"Patients are waiting much longer than they should for services, the ambulance waiting times are the longest they’ve ever been, it’s taking far too long to get people into a bed in hospital when they need to come in and see us.

"It doesn’t feel like it’s fair to say that the NHS is coping because it is coping at the expense of patient care.

"When the going gets tough in the NHS, we have to restrict what’s called ‘routine care’ to enable us to look after the sickest patients first and that’s always the way the NHS has coped.

"But of course, the more you cancel and postpone routine care, that care need doesn’t go away. Those patients are still unwell, in pain, and are still waiting on a waiting list somewhere.

"Eventually that routine care becomes more urgent and they end up coming in as an emergency anyway.

"So it really doesn’t do us any favours to restrict the care to emergency care only and it’s not a sustainable way of running a healthcare service.”

When contacted by ITV West Country, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said a new deal announced today (January 10) means hospitals will be able to quickly activate surge capacity in the independent sector.

A three-month agreement with multiple independent healthcare organisations will see their staff and facilities put on standby to support the NHS should the Omicron variant lead to unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “NHS staff continue to go above and beyond to ensure people get the treatment they need this winter and our support for the NHS through this challenging period remains at full throttle.

“This agreement demonstrates the collaboration across our health care services to create an additional safeguard that ensures people can continue to get the care they need from our world-leading NHS, whenever they need it.

“I encourage everyone to keep doing their bit to look after themselves and their loved ones and most importantly for all those eligible to Get Boosted Now”.