Cambridgeshire’s emergency services wary of the impact of festive mixing
Vital services are braced for disruption as the impact of the spread of Covid-19 across Cambridgeshire remains uncertain.
Health bosses are anxious about the effects of the third wave with the situation “difficult to predict” but they say current pressure on the hospitals is “manageable”.
However, there is concern that the county could be “at the start of a wave” with the impact of pupils returning to school after mixing over the festive period not yet known.
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Roland Sinker told staff: “We’re in the best possible position we could have hoped to be in, but we’re still in that world of watchful waiting.”
Latest data published by NHS England show the trust saw staff absences fluctuate from 479 on December 13 to a peak of 585 on December 22. Of those, 121 and 208 respectively were due to sickness/self-isolation due to Covid.
The number of patients being treated in Addenbrooke’s Hospital with Covid-19 stood at 53 with seven in critical care on Tuesday (January 4) which was down on 65 and eight on Friday, December 31, before which figures had been steadily increasing throughout the month. However, on Thursday(January 6) numbers were up to 70 and eight.
There were 242 staff absent due to sickness/self-isolation due to Covid on Tuesday, which was down on the previous week.
Dr Ewen Cameron, chief operating officer and consultant gastroenterologist at CUH, told staff: “The first thing is that Covid prevalence in the community does seem to still be going up pretty steeply, certainly in South Cambridgeshire and in East Cambridgeshire, particularly in younger people, but also, more now in the over 60s.
“There is an early sign that things might have peaked in Cambridge, but I think it’s probably a bit too early to be really certain on that. And clearly, there’s the impact of Christmas mixing in schools going back today still to play in that.”
He said the situation was looking “pretty edgy” on Friday, but it had improved over the weekend and said: “The pressure at the moment on the hospital is manageable.”
This compares with a very varied national picture, with substantial pressure on services elsewhere in the country.
Dr Cameron noted that the “vast majority, if not all” patients in the hospital were suffering from the Delta variant and that it was predominantly affecting unvaccinated people or those with other health conditions.
“We look forward to the next couple of weeks anxiously but glad we’ve reached the beginning of the year in the position we’re in. I certainly would have taken this position if you’d offered it to me two weeks go,” he said.
Dr Cameron said the trust had seen significant numbers of staff absences which is putting substantial pressure on those who are able to work.
He added: “We have seen at times some really significant numbers of absences.
“There’s still a lot of people either off with Covid or isolating but certainly the position was much better than it had been at times over the last two weeks.”
A Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson added: “We have tried and tested plans in place to handle increased winter and coronavirus pressures, and thanks to the hard work of our dedicated staff all of our urgent and emergency care is operating as normal. It is really important that people access the NHS as they usually would if they have any health symptoms that cause concern.
“As our staff continue to provide care to those that need us, the public can play their part in protecting themselves by getting the first, second and booster jabs, as tens of millions of others already have.”
Staffing problems have improved at the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) which also struggled over the festive period.
Latest data shows that the trust absence figure has dropped to around six per cent.
Marcus Bailey, chief operating officer at EEEAST, told the Cambridge Independent: “We saw an increase in staff absences due to Covid-19 in the lead up to New Year’s Day, but over the past few days, the absence figure has dropped slightly to around six per cent. This continues to present us with challenges as our services remain very busy.
“The public can help us by only calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies and seeking alternatives where appropriate, such as NHS 111 online, pharmacies and GPs.
“Throughout the pandemic we have had a dedicated team of ‘Covid leads’ whose role is to support and advise our staff on all matters related to Covid-19 and they have proved invaluable in getting staff back to work as quickly as possible and managing our absence rate.”
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire County Council, which is responsible for social care in the county, said: “Our social care workforce is affected by Covid in the same way as other any other workforce. We’re seeing the impact of people isolating as direct contacts, or with Covid, but we’re continually reviewing our business continuity plans to ensure we continue to meet our statutory requirements and people continue to receive the care and support required.”
Cambridgeshire Constabulary says it is continuing to monitor absence rates. A spokesperson for the force said: “We continue to closely monitor absence rates within the constabulary and have plans in place to manage resources. Covid-related absences are not currently impacting our ability to provide our normal service to the public.”
Absences are also being closely monitored at Greater Cambridge Shared Waste where a shortage of waste crews due to Covid resulted in green bin collections across Cambridge city and South Cambridgeshire on December 13 being suspended.
A spokesman for the service said black and blue bin collections would continue to operate as normal, with no current disruption. Green bin collections remain suspended until Wednesday, January 12 as set out by the service last month, with plans for resumption under way. Residents are urged to check their councils’ websites – cambridge.gov.uk or scambs.gov.uk – for updates from January 10. In East Cambridgeshire, green bin collections are due to return on January 28.