Advice to take ‘extra care’ has been made as East Kent Hospitals – including QEQM in Margate – are facing a series of pressures with staff absences, rising covid cases and a surge in accident and emergency departments due to people being unable to get a GP appointment.
Chief executive Susan Acott says Covid in-patient numbers are rising, although levels are nowhere near those in January 2021, and care needed is not generally intensive.
Following an enquiry from Kent County Councillor Karen Constantine on how well the health service in east Kent is coping, the Chief Exec said the situation is “very pressurised.”
She adds: “Sadly, we have a rising number of Covid patients again which is a worry. It is nothing like last January but we are now aware that Omicron is very transmissible which presents logistical issues in managing presenting and ‘incidental’ covid patients.
“Most are not going to ITU (intensive therapy unit) and are staying less time which is good news and shows the value of the vaccine and also the new treatments we have available.
“We have a higher footfall through the A+Es as patients struggle to get to see their GP and we also have a high number of patients awaiting onward care so discharging people who need a package of care of nursing home support has been exceptionally slow.
“We are concerned with the impact on staffing as people isolate or catch covid and morale is affected as the staff have to ‘go again’.”
The OPEL status at East Kent Hospitals has moved between three and four- the highest level- over the last few weeks.
OPEL status indicates the overall level of pressure in the health system and is implemented based on the number of available beds, number of staff, the number of inbound ambulances per hour and other risk factors. The whole region has been in OPEL 3/4 during the same period.
To help reduce pressures some services have been moved to Canterbury to protect them from covid. This has resulted in consistent cancer services although there were a number of patients cancelling appointments before Christmas.
Adding to current difficulties is the extensive building work taking place at QEQM to enlarge the A&E and the children’s A&E departments.
The Trust does have enough Lateral Flow Tests for staff who may have hit difficulties obtaining them. Ms Acott says the Trust has been advised that nationally there is no shortage but supply lines are challenged by demand, staff sickness and the festive shut down.
Cllr Constantine is asking Thanet residents to take ‘extra care’ to tackle Omicron.
She said: “The next few weeks will be challenging. All of our NHS workers and other vital frontline staff are working hard and having to ‘go again’ to meet this wave of Omicron. I’m sure you’d all join me in extending our thanks – again – as we get through another wave of infection.
“We can all take steps to help protect ourselves, our families and our vital healthcare, front line workforce. We can all play our part.
“In some parts of the country hospitals are struggling to cope with demand, staff absence in some locations means up to a quarter of public health workers are away from work due to health concerns.
“QEQM is currently managing demand but is seeing rising numbers of Covid patients. Thankfully many aren’t going into ITU and are being discharged home more quickly thanks to the vaccinations.
“If anyone hasn’t yet received a vaccination you can still get a one and a booster. If you’re worried and I know some people are, I would suggest you seek a conversation with a medic who may be able to answer your questions and reassure you.
“I urge people to stick to social distancing and please wear a mask whenever you are out, but especially in shops and other crowded places, unless you are exempt. If possible, for the next few weeks consider staying away from other people, especially indoor gatherings.
“If you can avoid seeking an appointment with your GP, please do so. Consider topical treatment at home for coughs and colds. If you need to visit A&E remember there is real demand and strain in the system and if you can, please consider attending one of the Urgent Treatment Centres at Deal, Dover, Herne Bay and Whitstable. I’m advised that they all tend to be far less busy with greater social distancing too.
“We need to take increased care now, not to overwhelm our NHS and to protect the workforce. As we now understand, this wave will pass, but let’s take some simple steps to minimise the impact and risk from Omicron. I hope people will join me in taking a bit of extra care.”
As of December 28, there were 64 inpatients with covid at East Kent Hospitals, with six in ventilation beds.
East Kent Hospitals Trust is urging people to contact NHS 111 as a first port of call rather than attending accident & emergency departments.