Our hospitals remain extremely busy managing winter pressures in the middle of a level 4 national incident. Yet we are increasingly optimistic that the worst of the latest pandemic peak is now over, and Covid-19 is less prevalent than it was.
Group executives set out the Trust’s latest position at the first public Board meeting of the year, and Jacqui Smith, chair in common, led tributes and thanks to staff for their hard work on behalf of our patients.
Shane Degaris, group deputy chief executive, said the number of Covid cases in our communities was falling week by week. In particular, infection rates were falling among the over-60s, leading to a reduction in inpatient admissions, and easing pressures on bed numbers.
Alistair Chesser, group chief medical officer, said: “With community rates falling quickly we are optimistic we are at or just about through the peak in terms of hospital admissions with Covid, which are roughly half the level of last year - albeit with the usual winter pressures superimposed on top.”
He added: “We have got through without wholescale redeployment or sweeping cancellations of our elective programme. That is testament to the commitment of our staff who have gone above and beyond to keep the show on the road.”
Dr Chesser highlighted the infection control challenges our hospitals faced in living with Covid in future. Any patient could be carrying Covid, he said, and we estimate that between one-third and two-thirds of those we are treating for the Omicron variant came to hospital with other illnesses.
Daniel Waldron, group director of people, said staff absences had fallen from a peak of 10% at the end of December, though there were still hotspots on the wards among nurses and midwives in particular.
He confirmed that 89% of staff had a first dose of the Covid vaccine, 84% a second dose and 62% the booster. This means 1,600 employees were potentially at risk from the government decision to mandate vaccination in the NHS from April.
“Lower-banded staff in support worker roles from the Black community have the lowest levels of vaccination, so we can see the impact of this mandate is going to have on our inclusion agenda,” he said.
“We are going to be as flexible as we can to ensure we retain as many colleagues as possible. Now is not the time to be losing staff from the NHS. We will continue to take a compassionate and supportive approach to colleagues at what is going to be a difficult time, when people have to make difficult decisions about whether to have the vaccination so their employment in the NHS continues.”