Newcastle’s hospitals are being forced to deal with “significant absences” due to the number of people being asked to self-isolate.
It is understood that hundreds of staff at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and Freeman Hospital have been unable to come into work over the last couple of weeks due to Covid-19 – either through contracting the virus, or because they or their children have been ordered to self-isolate having come into contact with someone who has.
There has been a huge rise in alerts sent out by the NHS Covid-19 app, causing problems for organisations and businesses across the country as infections rise and more workers are ordered to stay at home.
The government has said that the app is under review and could be tweaked so that fewer users are “pinged” now that lockdown measures are easing and the vaccine rollout continues, while people have been urged not to ignore or delete the app.
It comes as case rates in the North East continue to surge, with our region now England’s coronavirus hotspot and the infection rate in Newcastle escalating to more than 800 per 100,000 people according to latest data issued by the city council.
The spike in cases has been largely among young people and, as such, has not yet caused a massive spike in hospitalisations.
But the number of Covid patients now being treated at Newcastle’s hospitals has increased to 39, with six needing mechanical ventilation.
In a blog post on Friday, Newcastle Hospitals chief executive Dame Jackie Daniel warned that the number of emergency room patients is also at “unprecedented levels” and that the situation is being worsened by the number of staff having to self-isolate.
She said: “I think we had all hoped that things might start to feel a little better, day by day, as we moved toward the end of the acute impact from the pandemic and began to establish our new normal. That has not proved to be the case, and in the last fortnight we have seen a further surge in cases of Covid-19 across the North East.
“We currently have 39 patients with Covid across our hospitals, and this figure is continuing to rise. Thankfully, it is becoming clear that the vaccination programme is making a difference to the severity of infections we are seeing. Hospital admissions here have escalated less quickly than in previous waves, but it’s striking that we still have people with severe Covid illness in our intensive care units.
“Our emergency attendances remain at unprecedented levels in both adult and children’s departments and everyone is working hard to tackle our backlog of elective activity so that patients don’t need to wait any longer than necessary. I know that areas such as our cancer directorate, the children’s hospital, transplant and our maternity services are also exceptionally busy.
“On top of that, and due to the wider opening up of society, many staff have been contacted through the NHS Covid-19 app to advise that they may have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. This has created significant absences and therefore pressures on all of our teams across the organisation.”
She also thanked staff who had “been flexible enough to work in different wards and services to support colleagues and patients, others have worked with lower levels of staffing than we would like.”
But Dame Jackie added that the problems “are not likely to be resolved quickly and we will need to keep asking people to be flexible over the next few weeks”.
The hospitals trust refused to confirm how many staff were currently absent.
A spokesperson said: “Inevitably, the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the community have, in turn, impacted on our staffing numbers as more people are having to self-isolate after receiving notifications from the NHS Covid-19 app or for other reasons such as caring for children who are isolating from school.
“As we head into another very busy period our main concern is keeping everyone safe and we would ask people to continue to support the NHS by following simple things like increased hand washing, wearing masks and getting their vaccinations.”