Covid: Greater Manchester hospitals cancel surgery as NHS pressures mounton January 5, 2022 at 10:20 am

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Some non-urgent surgery is being halted at 17 Greater Manchester hospitals due to staffing shortages.

Doctors in an operating theatre

Image source, Getty Images

Some non-urgent surgery is being halted at Greater Manchester hospitals as the “rising impact” of Covid-19 and staffing shortages continues to affect NHS trusts across England.

A number of trusts declared critical incidents, meaning they are concerned they cannot provide priority services.

Health bosses in Greater Manchester said about 15% of their workforce were either ill with Covid or isolating.

They said the “challenges may get worse” in the next fortnight.

Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said the decision affecting 17 hospitals was “a temporary measure” and that cancer care, cardiac and vascular surgery and transplantation would not be affected.

But it said Covid admissions were also rising sharply, with more than one in five patients in some of the region’s hospitals testing positive.

Fiona Noden, chief executive of Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said the suspension of surgery had been “a very difficult decision” which was taken to ensure “we can keep people safe, maintain infection control, deploy staff where they are needed most [and] keep looking after people who need urgent and emergency care”.

Health minister Gillian Keegan said the government knew “this was going to be one of the most pressurised winters” for the NHS and that extra investment had been given to help the service cope.

NHS trusts are “under extreme pressure with the Omicron variant” and “we actually knew that going into this period”, she said.

She said declaring critical incidents was part of “our NHS contingency and resilience plans” that are “tried and tested” and in place every winter.

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Elsewhere in England, at least 10 hospital trusts have announced critical incidents since Christmas:

  • Norfolk and Waveney’s care system has been placed on the highest state of alert and county’s biggest hospital said its number of patients with Covid had almost doubled since Friday
  • The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, which serves patients in Lancashire and south Cumbria, said some non-urgent operations and procedures had been suspended
  • Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s chief operating officer said there was “very high demand” for services and “long waits” in emergency and urgency care departments
  • In Wiltshire, the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust declared a critical incident after experiencing “sustained high levels of demand” and concerns over the “availability of beds”
  • United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust’s medical director said on Monday there were “significant staffing pressures” due to Covid-related absences, though essential services were still operating
  • A critical incident was also declared at Plymouth’s Derriford hospital with 99 positive cases there and at its three community hospitals
  • Meanwhile the number of hospital staff off sick across the North East and north Cumbria has increased 135% due to Covid since 24 December

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said a critical incident was “an indication of very serious pressure” at a trust which may “not be able to provide” a range of priority services.

A rise in call-outs and staff sickness has led North East Ambulance Service to ask people with non life-threatening emergencies to “look for alternative forms of transport” to ambulances where possible, including lifts from “friends, family, neighbours or public transport” .

The service’s medical director Dr Mathew Beattie said there had been an 80% increase in Covid-related absences over the last six days.

Ms Keegan said despite the service suggesting people may get to A&E quicker by car than ambulance, “we expect, for all of that, you can rely on getting to hospital if you are an emergency like a heart attack”.

Manchester Infirmary

Image source, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust

The government’s website showed there were no PCR test appointments available at any of the sites in Greater Manchester and Cheshire for a considerable amount of time on Tuesday.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said he would support relaxing rules around PCR follow-up tests if it was backed up by scientists.

“In many parts of the health service, we are currently in a state of crisis,” he added.

“Some hospitals are making urgent calls to exhausted staff to give up rest days and leave to enable them to sustain core services.

“Community and social care services, which were already massively overstretched, are at breaking point. In many areas, ambulance services are unable to meet their target response times.”

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson said he hoped England could “ride out” the current wave without further restrictions but acknowledged parts of the NHS would feel “temporarily overwhelmed”.

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