York and Scarborough hospitals are seeing much higher levels of staff absence than during the peak of the second wave of Covid – and are offering a 20 per cent pay uplift for nurses to take on extra shifts.
It is the “toughest period of time we have experienced during the pandemic from a staffing perspective,” one hospital boss said.
Pressures on the health service mean some planned surgery and non-urgent clinics may be delayed over the next two to four weeks, a hospital trust meeting heard.
Health leaders say there are a number of reasons for staff being off, from people being ‘pinged’, sickness, more people taking their annual leave than during the height of the pandemic and huge demand for services meaning more staff are needed.
Polly McMeekin, director of workforce at York and Scarborough Hospital Trust, said: “Wave two was tricky and when you compare absence rates from the 26 and 27 of January, when we were at the peak, we are seeing absence significantly higher than that.”
She said the weekend when the Euro 2020 final and the Wimbledon final took place was “really tough” and that may have been because the hospital had been relying on staff picking up extra shifts.
‘Ping’ pilot scheme
The trust is piloting a scheme where staff do not have to isolate if they are ‘pinged’ if they have received both doses of the vaccine and meet other criteria, such as testing negative daily.
Ms McMeekin said the trust is also offering incentives for nurses to pick up extra shifts and that increasing the pay uplift by 20 per cent until August 15 has led to a “real leap in uptake”.
“We are trying really hard not to ask staff to cancel their annual leave and we are trying to protect training where we possibly can,” she added.
“We are trying not to apply too much pressure to staff working overtime, because they are exhausted.”
Nevertheless August is expected to be a challenging month and the peak of hospital admissions for the third wave is predicted to take place towards the end of August.
Wendy Scott, chief operating officer at the trust, warned that some elective surgery and clinics could be cancelled as a result of staffing pressures.
She said: “We are at a point where we are making decisions about cancelling a relatively small number of elective procedures and routine clinics so that we can redeploy staff into clinical areas where there’s the greatest need.”
The daily number of covid patients admitted to York and Scarborough hospitals has doubled in the past week to around six or seven and the trust has recorded eight deaths since the start of July.
York Hospital opened a second Covid ward at the end of last week to cope with rising numbers.
The patients are mostly unvaccinated and younger people, including a 26-year-old man who had become critically ill, the meeting of the board of directors was told.