Hospitals across the country suspend visits over fear of Omicron spread

Hospitals across the country suspend visits over fear of Omicron spread
Omicron cases have driven hospital outbreaks one trust said as it was forced to suspend visiting

Hospitals up and down the country have been forced to stop visiting again as Omicron infections reached a new high and staff absence driven by Covid surges.

Several NHS trusts have said this week they can no longer allow patients family and friends to visit as one trust warned some Omicron cases “appear to have no symptoms” and visits have subsequently led to infections.

The decisions come as Omicron infections reached a new high of almost 190,000 on Thursday and the number of Covid positive patients in hospitals increased by 1,000 up to 11,898.

Latest data from the NHS published Friday revealed staff absences due to Covid had increased by 42 per cent in the week before Christmas to a total of 176,914 from 124,855.

The number of staff off due to Covid on boxing day was 24,632 up from 18,829 – a 31 per cent increase week on week.

London hospitals saw as 58 per cent weekly increase in staff off with Covid, while absences in the North West increased by 50 per cent.

NHS nursing leaders from the Royal College of Nursing have called for on ministers “emergency” staffing plan for the NHS, while opposition party the Liberal Democrats ha asked for the government to call an urgent COBR meeting over the workforce crisis.

Chris Hopson chief for NHS Providers, which represents all hospitals in England, said the spike in staff absences was “worrying” and the biggest challenge for trusts as they deal with Omicron.

He added: “In that context it is reassuring to see bed occupancy levels stabilising, albeit at a high level.

“It will be particularly important in the coming days to look out for evidence of severe COVID-19 symptoms affecting older, vulnerable patients and impacting on critical care as we saw earlier in the year. We haven’t seen that on a major scale yet, but it still could arrive.

“So it’s absolutely right that the NHS is putting in place plans for a ‘super surge’. It’s hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. And the government must stand ready to act on restrictions if needed.

Concern over staff absences driven by Covid comes amid a national shortage of tests post-Christmas which is expected to last for the next couple of weeks.

Throughout the pandemic hospitals have been forced to restrict visiting as infections in community increased and this week many have been forced to do the same again.

Some hospitals have are requiring patients to take lateral flow tests before visits. Current national guidance is to allow visits but allowing for certain infection control measures.

In an update this week Sheffield Teaching Hospital’s said it would temporarily stop visiting from Friday 31 December.

The hospital’s chief nurse, Chris Morley said: “Sadly the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now spreading rapidly in the local community and whilst we have been trying to maintain some visiting because we realise how important this is to patients and relatives, unfortunately the increase in cases does now pose a greater risk of our patients acquiring the virus.

“A proportion of people with Omicron appear to have no symptoms and regrettably as a result we have seen some transmission in our hospitals which has been linked to visiting. We have to put the protection of our patients, some of whom are vulnerable or immuno-compromised, as our first priority and so we have taken the difficult decision to temporarily stop all visiting unless there are exceptional circumstances.”

Exceptional circumstances include patients receiving end of life care or regarding maternity visits where one person is permitted with mothers during labour.

The news comes as hospital bosses were told to plan for admissions to continue raising at least over the next 10 days to a possible peak.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the council at the British Medical Association, said there was concern over a “significant increase” of people in hospital with coronavirus.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: “What’s concerning is that we are seeing significant increases in people in hospital.

Dr Nagpaul said 25,000 patients were admitted with Covid-19 in a four-week period before Christmas and argued that those fresh admissions were preventing the six million people on the NHS waiting list from being treated.

He added: “To add to that problem, we now have the situation where many staff cannot get their letaral flow tests, or a PCR test, which means that they can’t return to work, because what they need to return to work is to demonstrate a negative lateral flow test on day six and seven, which was specially introduced so that we could shorten the period of isolation.

“This is creating enormous problems for us. And for the workforce that remains, they’re having to carry out the work of their absent colleagues, and that’s adding additional strain and stress. Patients are therefore going to suffer as a result.”