York Hospital ‘very busy’ with Covid second wave – but many staff signed off sick

York Hospital. Photograph: YorkMix

York Hospital is in the midst of tackling a second wave of covid admissions, just as staff absence rates peak.

Hospital bosses say they are “very busy” with a high number of patients.

Simon Morritt, chief executive of the trust, said the hospital expects to meet the peak of the second wave in the coming week.

On November 23 there were 129 coronavirus patients in the Trust’s hospitals: 71 in York, 55 in Scarborough and three in community hospitals in York.

Fourteen of them were in critical care. The hospital has created space for up to 197 covid patients, a board of directors meeting heard.

In wave one of the pandemic the hospital admitted 786 coronavirus patients and in wave two so far they have seen 573.

Possible third wave

A Covid-19 test prepared for analysis in the laboratory at Whiston Hospital in Merseyside. Photograph: Peter Byrne / PA Wire

Wendy Scott, chief operating officer, warned the hospital faces further challenges including staff off sick, winter pressures and the possibility of a third wave.

She said: “Part of the challenge has been to maintain business as usual as well as manage covid patients.

“In September and October we over-delivered on our plan, we have done a great job in recovering services.

“We have been really careful to maintain our cancer services throughout the pandemic.

“Workforce has been a key problem.

“I think all the staff were geared up for wave one but there’s lots of anxiety about wave two and what that might mean. Staff are tired and our workforce is quite challenged.

“We may well see a third wave and we don’t know what that would look like.

“When we come out of lockdown that might mean we see a resurgence of the virus in January – that could be something we need to consider.”

High level of absence

The new NHS Covid-19 app on a mobile phone. Photograph: Scott D’Arcy / PA Wire

The hospital saw its highest level of staff off sick recently – 6.7 per cent of the workforce – due to people testing positive for coronavirus or being asked to self-isolate by contact tracers. Up to 90 people a day were off because of the test and trace service

Polly McMeekin, director of workforce, said absence levels are decreasing and York’s rates have not been as high as other hospitals which have had up to 11 per cent of staff off sick.

Staff with no symptoms are set to be tested twice a week, starting next week, but Ms McMeekin warned this can lead to more people being told to self-isolate and push up absence levels.

She said more workers are using occupational health services, such as counselling, with referrals to the department up by a third compared to last year.

But there are hopes staff will start to receive the Pfizer vaccine within weeks.

Ms McMeekin added: “We are being told to plan for the Oxford vaccine to be available from the beginning of January. The Government is keen that we roll out mass vaccination for NHS staff as soon as we possibly can and the Pfizer one is available first, with the expectation that the Oxford one will come online slightly later.”