CLOSE to 1,000 Western Health Trust staff are currently unavailable for work because of Covid-related absences, it has emerged.
At the latest meeting of the Trust’s board, chief executive Neil Guckian admitted staffing and Covid pressures remained a “recurring theme” for the local health body, which has responsibility for the west’s three hospitals.
“It’s impossible to list all our services that are under pressure,” said Mr Guckian, who said while “traditionally” such pressures would mostly be confined to hospital services, the problem was much more pervasive across health and social care at the moment.
Mr Guckian noted there were 27 patients waiting admission to Altnagelvin and 18 to the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) at the time of the meeting last Thursday.
There were 43 Covid patients across the two hospitals, although Mr Guckian said the numbers had reduced slightly since the previous meeting, reflecting “a fluid sitiuation in our hospitals at the moment”.
“Last weekend was quite challenging for health and social care for our acute hospital services across Northern Ireland,” said Mr Guckian.
“Our numbers are lower than the previous day, reflecting the both high demand and also the intense efforts by our hospital community teams to maintain flow.
“The greatest pressure on the system is the workforce. We have over 20 beds closed in Altnagelvin in recent weeks due to staff shortages. Our surge plans for the winter months will involve the opening of these beds in the coming weeks.”
He added, “As I keep saying, acute hospital services do not have a monopoly in terms of the pressure. Staff shortages and increased demand have resulted in increased pressure and delays across many service.
“From children’s social work, maternity services, mental health services, disability, domiciliary care, and many other services, both those that we provide and those that we commission, are all experiencing challenges. The knock-on effect of that makes our surge and winter planning very difficult.
“I want to again highlight the support that is available to all staff, including the staff psychological support helpline. This helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
“I want to again thank staff for their commitment at this very difficult and busy time.”
Chairman of the board, Sam Pollock, said he regularly met with the Department of Health, along with other Trusts, and while the entire health service was feeling the pressure, the Western Trust especially so.
“We are no different from other Trusts, but certainly we are under a lot of pressure in terms of resources,” he said.
“Most of you know that in terms of our desirable compliment of staff we are well over 1,000 short.
“When I met with the Minister, I had to share the difficulty we have in terms of 960 staff with Covid-related absence. That puts huge pressure on our services in our hospitals and also in our community homes.
“Again, you would want to express appreciation to staff who are coping with those difficulties and those pressures.”
By Roisin Henderson