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The wave of Omicron reached ‘around 10%’ of elective operations at the North East NHS Trust in January UK News

Top doctors at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust said they fear Omicron could lead to one in four elective operations being canceled – but that work to mitigate this throughout January meant that only “around 10% ” were ultimately affected.

Meanwhile, the Trust’s chief executive, Sir James Mackey, has warned it remains ‘under pressure’ from Covid-19, with staff absences rising again, reflecting a rise in cases in the community. Sir James, who is also the Government adviser responsible for the national recovery of elective surgery waiting lists after the pandemic, said he hoped the problem would subside in “the next two or three weeks”.

Doctors in charge of surgery and A&E at the NHS Trust – which runs the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital (NSECH) in Cramlington as well as a smaller hospital across Northumberland and North Tyneside – explained at a meeting on Thursday from the Board of Directors how they coped with a difficult winter.

Read more: Covid rates continue to rise across the North East – although the picture varies across our region

As the original Omicron variant swept the country in December and January, there was widespread concern about what it would mean for people awaiting major operations. High profile figures Dr Elliot Sykes and Dr Simon Eaton gave a presentation explaining how the Trust’s intensive care and A&E coped over the winter.

Speaking directly about how Omicron had impacted elective care, Dr Sykes said: “We predicted the impact would be around 25%. But with hard work we’ve moved a lot of things.” The Trust decided to use a service at Hexham General to boost ‘surge capacity’ during the Omicron surge, and Dr Sykes said it helped the Trust ‘mitigate’ the impact of the huge Covid spike on people who had planned operations.

He added: “Overall, given that we are dealing with around 1,800 cases per month, we have been able to mitigate this expected impact from 25% to around 10% for this period.” According to the latest national NHS data released in January, 28,543 people were awaiting elective procedures at the Trust.

Dr Eaton also issued a caveat, pointing out that the government’s strategy of ‘living with Covid’ meant the Trust had been forced to juggle winter A&E pressures with high levels of Covid patients in a way that was different from the pandemic.

He said: “Previously when we had significant levels of Covid inpatients it would coincide with periods of reduced attendance because we’ve been in lockdown. But what we’re trying to do at the moment apparently is living normally with Covid. So we have this overlap between winter pressure and high footfall, but actually also a significant number of people with Covid in hospital.”

At the moment there are – as of March 19 – 102 Covid-positive patients in hospital.

Dr Eaton added that staff absence and fatigue were also of concern. “We’ve obviously had very consistent and prolonged issues with staff absences, which becomes very tiring for everyone involved,” he said. “It’s not slowing down and at the moment it’s getting worse rather than anything else. It’s also hitting our colleagues in the community, social care and community services.”

Also speaking at the Board meeting, Chairman Professor Alan Richardson spoke of the continued pressures facing the Trust. “We are under pressure. Covid is still there,” he said. “It’s had quite a different impact on us now – and it’s really quite a difficult time for us. The staff are tired but they’re absolutely engaged. They’re smiling and positive but you can see in their eyes that they’re tired. There are also a lot of important things happening around us – energy costs, inflation, Ukraine – all of that is around us, but we are moving forward with great caution and reflection.”

Sir James added that while the Trust continued to “perform well compared to the rest of the NHS”, the growing prevalence of Covid-19 was still having a serious impact on services.

“The last two weeks have been incredibly difficult again.” he said. There has been an increase in the prevalence of Covid, although it is a low impact disease, it is a milder version of the disease and we have a widely vaccinated population. But for the most part, there was an impact on absences and disruptions.

“I think we can expect another two or three weeks where it will be quite difficult.”

Sir James said that although the Trust will now fall short of its own target of eliminating people waiting over a year for treatment by the end of March – there are currently around 41 people in this situation – he expected this to happen well before the national NHS target.

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This notice was published: 2022-03-25 06:00:00

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