Leeds hospital chiefs temporarily suspend visiting to adult in-patients amid rising Covid cases and staff absences

Leeds hospital chiefs have temporarily suspended visiting to all adult in-patient over the bank holiday weekend in a bid to keep patients and staff safe amid the ongoing Omicron wave.

By Joanna Wardill
Saturday, 1st January 2022, 11:45 am

The move comes as the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust - along with hospital trusts across the nation - struggle with rising staff absences due to self-isolation and increasing numbers of Covid-infected patients.

New figures have revealed coronavirus was the reason behind more than a third of staff absences at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust on Boxing Day

NHS England data shows the numbers of staff off work due to the virus totalled 502 on December 26 - accounting for 36 per cent of the 1,407 employees off sick that day.

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Hospital bosses have temporarily suspended adult in-patient visiting over the bank holiday weekend. Picture: JPIMedia

That total had risen by 38 per cent from the week before, when 364 Covid-related absences were recorded.

And the numbers of Covid-19 patients being treated at the Leeds trust, as of December 28, was 95 - up from 54 the same day the previous week.

Hospital bosses told the Yorkshire Evening Post they have taken the decision to strictly suspend all visiting to adult in-patients over this bank holiday weekend - with the exception of end of life care - as the “significant increase” in Covid-19 patients coupled with the increase in staff isolating means services are “extremely busy”.

Mark Liddington, medical director for planned care at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Our staff have continued to work extremely hard over Christmas and New Year, caring for high numbers of patients and delivering hundreds of vaccines.

Hospital trusts are dealing with increasing Covid-related staff absences with rising Covid patients.

“With the Omicron variant circulating, we are responding to a significant increase in numbers of patients in our hospitals with Covid-19.

“Unfortunately this means that visiting is temporarily suspended for adult in-patients unless the patient is at the end of their life, so that we can keep our patients and staff safe.”

He praised the “flexibility” of team, in the face of current staffing issues, working hard to “minimise the impact” on patients.

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He said: “We have a large number of staff isolating with Covid-19 and we are grateful for the flexibility of our teams who are working hard to cover shifts and in some cases are working differently to minimise the impact on patients.

“This increase in staff isolating with Covid-19 is being experienced across all NHS health and social care organisations which means all services are extremely busy.”

As well as the hospital trust, Yorkshire Ambulance Service told the Yorkshire Evening Post, “high demand” for its services coupled with Covid-related staff sickness was having a “significant impact” on its frontline operations.

A YAS spokeswoman said: “Like all other ambulance services across the country, we are continuing to experience high demand for our services. Coupled with the added challenge of COVID-19 related sickness amongst staff, this is having a significant impact on our frontline operations.

“Our dedicated staff are doing their best to respond as quickly as possible to all 999 calls, but we acknowledge that some patients are having to wait longer at exceptionally busy times.

“All emergency calls are categorised according to the nature of a patient’s illness or injury and those in a life-threatening condition are always prioritised.”

She added: “We continue to monitor the situation closely and thank all our hard-working staff for their efforts at this challenging time.”

Across England, the number of NHS hospital staff in England absent due to Covid-19 has nearly doubled since the start of the month.

Some 24,632 staff at NHS hospital trusts were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on Boxing Day - up 31 per cent from 18,829 a week earlier and nearly double the 12,508 at the start of the month.

The NHS England figures come as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data also showed an estimated 2.3 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 23 - equating to around 1 in 25 people.

The ONS said in that week, COVID-19 positivity rates increased in all four UK nations.

As the Yorkshire Evening Post reported yesterday, Leeds’ positivity rate, of 24.1 per cent of the week up to December 24, was the highest on the city’s record and equated to almost one in four people who took PCR tests receiving a positive result.

It follows the announcement of new Nightingale ‘surge hubs’ to be created - one of which will be built in the car park of St James’ Hospital in Leeds.

The hubs will have the capacity to treat 100 patients and were announced by NHS England, whose medical director Stephen Powis said health services were on a “war footing” as the Omicron wave continues to sweep the nation.

He said: “We don't yet know the full scale of rising Omicron cases and how this will affect people needing NHS treatment but, having hit a 10-month high for the number of patients in hospital with Covid while wrestling with sharply increasing staff absences, we are doing everything possible to free up beds and get people home to their loved ones - and in the last week hundreds more beds were freed up each day compared to the week before.

"The NHS is on a war footing, and, while staff remain braced for the worst, with Covid absence for NHS staff almost doubling in the past fortnight, keeping as many colleagues as possible at work on the front line and minimising absence, will be essential in the next few weeks."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS is facing a "perfect storm" of rising Covid hospital admissions and illness alongside increasing numbers of frontline workers being off sick.

"The NHS is putting in plans to step up once again for patients with the new Nightingale surge hubs, extra support from community services and virtual wards, but there is no doubt the whole system is running hot," he said.

"While the Government seems determined not to increase restrictions in England, it is vital we all behave in ways that will not exacerbate an already dangerous situation."

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