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4 January 2022

“Incredible staff” enable Sheffield Hospitals to cope with Omicron surge as COVID

The Chief Executive of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals has paid tribute to the “incredible staff” who are enabling the Trust to manage the current Omicron surge as the number of COVID patients admitted to hospital more than tripled over the Christmas period.

Before Christmas, the Trust had some 75 patients in the City’s hospitals with COVID-19 but now that number is 234, although currently fewer patients require critical care than in previous waves.

Kirsten Major, Chief Executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:

“Regrettably, we have seen an increase in the number of COVID patients being admitted to our hospitals from around 75 pre-Christmas to 234 today (4 Jan 2022). This has been coupled with higher than usual staff absence, due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant being prevalent in local communities, and the usual high demand for non-Covid-19 and emergency care that we see at this time of year.

We had predicted the increase in demand and staff absence, because we are slightly behind London in terms of the impact of Omicron. We have been monitoring the situation and had additional plans in place in readiness. Thankfully we have far fewer patients needing critical care support this time and the severity of the illness for those who are vaccinated is less than we have seen previously, so their stay in hospital is tending to be shorter.

Once again our teams have been incredible in dealing with this latest stage of the pandemic which has meant we have been able to provide the increased COVID-19 care as well as continuing to deliver emergency and urgent care and some planned operations, but there is no doubt that the current situation is extremely challenging for all our hospital and community teams.

We have more than double the number of staff off that we would normally expect but we are managing the situation and asking people to bear with us and be kind to our staff as they are genuinely going above and beyond every day to deal with the current situation. We are very aware that our waiting times are longer than we would like at the moment in some areas due to the increased demand we are experiencing but I can assure our patients and communities that we are doing all we can to provide care as quickly and safely as we can.

Prior to the Winter period, we had recruited additional staff, including 300 plus nurses and we have opened up more ward capacity to manage the increase in COVID patients again. We are still restricted by the important infection control measures we need in place to limit transmission of the virus which means we do not have as much flexibility or space as we would have done before the pandemic.

We are being innovative, for example, looking at procedures we can safely perform as a day case rather than needing a hospital stay. We are also using technology and alternative locations to deliver services that do not need the patient to be in our main hospitals. Our management teams including senior clinicians are coming together several times a day to assess the operational position and ensure we are doing everything possible to support teams to deliver the care needed.

As well as those colleagues involved in providing care on wards and clinics, our support teams have been invaluable once again. For example, our laboratory and testing teams have pulled out all the stops to ensure staff could get a PCR as quickly as possible to enable them to come to work if negative and take the right precautions if positive. Other staff members have come in to support our staff drive-through testing service in their own time so that it could open longer hours. In total over 4,000 PCR tests have been carried out in the last 2 weeks with results coming back in just a few hours. It has been invaluable in helping us have staff available to work.

Our community and social care teams are also working flat out to enable patients who no longer need hospital care to be transferred to the next stage of their care or discharged home as soon as possible. We have also worked with local care homes to enable some additional beds to be available for those patients waiting for social or other care arrangements to be made so they can leave hospital and free up that bed for someone who needs acute hospital care.

We have had great support from relatives too who have been invaluable in ensuring they help with the planning for their loved one’s discharge and then pick them up in a timely way once the time arrives for the person to go home. This is so important because the earlier we have a bed available, the less time someone else waits either in A&E or to know they can come in for their operation.

We are investing a lot of time in supporting staff right across our organisation because it really has been relentless for the last two years. We are so fortunate to have incredible people working in all our services who are dedicated to doing the right thing for patients even in such extreme circumstances, but we also need to look after each other if we are going to withstand these peaks of COVID and catch up the non-COVID care it impacts upon.

Finally it is fantastic that so many people have come forward for their booster vaccination and indeed first and second vaccines in the last few weeks. Pre-Christmas 54% of the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw population had received their booster jab but now it is up to 77%. There are still lots of appointments available to book or at walk into centres to get a jab and I would really stress the importance of getting some protection, whether that is your first, second or booster dose. Omicron is not just a bad cold for some people and I can assure you that there are many patients being admitted who are acutely unwell with their COVID-19 symptoms. The severity of Omicron is considerably less in those people who have been vaccinated.”

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