Sheffield hospitals face 'unsustainable pressure' as Covid cases soar among patients and staff

A top health chief has warned of the dangers of NHS hospitals becoming overwhelmed as healthcare staff absenses soar while the Omicron variant spreads.
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Increasing numbers of health staff forced to take time off work due to becoming ill – through Covid, stress or otherwise – is ‘worrying’ medical chiefs, who have advised people to get jabbed in order to protect the healthcare system.

As the Omicron variant infects more people, including medical staff, the likelihood of the NHS staff who can work becoming overwhelmed by hospital cases rises – in spite of reports saying it is a ‘less severe’ variant.

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NHS England data shows that staff absense caused by sickness has been on the rise across the country. At Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the number of staff absenses steadily rose from 1442 on November 19 to 1780 by December 16.

Greg Fell, director of Public Health at Sheffield City Council.Greg Fell, director of Public Health at Sheffield City Council.
Greg Fell, director of Public Health at Sheffield City Council.

By December 19 – the latest date on record – it had fallen again slightly, to 1699.

And during that same period the number of absenses at the Trust that were credited to Covid largely followed a similar trend.

From November 29 to December 17 it rose from 461 to 750, with some minor fluctuation in the days between. After December 17 it fell to 699, which was the number on December 19.

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Although a report published today revealed that each individual Omicron case carries a smaller chance of causing hospitalisation than other Covid variants, it also confirmed that Omicron is more transmissable.

This means more people will get it, and therefore a greater number of people will be exposed to that chance of hospitalisation.

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Consequently, the likelihood of people ending up in hospital with the Omicron variant remains high.

Sheffield’s director of public health Greg Fell expressed concern over the potential impact of Omicron – the case rate of which has doubled in Sheffield in the past week – on the city’s health services.

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He said: “Even if it less severe, the sheer numbers of a more transmissible virus will lead to more people being infected and that will lead to more people being poorly and possibly unsustainable pressure on the NHS and social care.”

Top NHS officials have warned that although not perfect, vaccinations remain the best way to limit the number of people who become hospitalised through Covid, and so give the staff able to work the best chance of giving patients that do the best treatment.

NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “The NHS is on a war footing and staff are taking the fight to omicron, by boosting hundreds of thousands of people each day, treating thousands of seriously ill covid patients and delivering urgent care for other conditions, all while seeing a worrying, high and rising increase in absence due to covid.

“We are once again ramping up to deal with the rise in covid infections, and quite rightly staff are making every possible preparation for the uncertain challenges of omicron, including recruiting thousands of nurses and reservists.

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"But while we’ll leave no stone unturned to get the NHS battle ready, it remains the case that the best way to protect yourself and others is to follow guidance and to come forward and get your first, second and booster jabs.”