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Suffolk health bosses confident of getting through next few weeks despite Omicron threat



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Health bosses in Suffolk say they are confident they will get through the next few weeks of winter pressures as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 threatens disruption.

Suffolk’s Local Outbreak Engagement Board meeting of health, police and council leaders this morning was told that staff absence at the James Paget, West Suffolk and Ipswich hospitals are currently between 6 per cent and 9 per cent.

Dr Ed Garratt, chief executive of Ipswich and East Suffolk, West Suffolk and North East Essex clinical commissioning groups said he was confident the health system could make it through the difficult winter pressures period.

Dr Ed Garratt, chief executive of Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commission groups. Picture: Ben Carmichael/Suffolk CCGS.
Dr Ed Garratt, chief executive of Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commission groups. Picture: Ben Carmichael/Suffolk CCGS.

“Our NHS and social care system is standing up well under a lot of pressure,” he said.

“The first week of January is always the most pressurised week, and we have got Omicron on top of that, but we are standing up well.

“We are not on the highest risk rating – we feel confident we can get through this difficult period.

“For Omicron, yes there is a rise of cases in hospitals and also in care homes. The biggest issue is staffing.

“The sickness rate in our hospitals – in James Paget, West Suffolk and Ipswich is between about 6 per cent and 9 per cent, particularly hitting some of the nursing workforce.

“Our biggest risk at the moment is staff sickness and increasingly we are looking at how we can provide mutual aid in Suffolk and make sure we can keep the show on the road.

“Things change very quickly but I think we are reaching a plateau and that we have got good plans to see us through the next few weeks.”

Staff absences as a result of having to isolate have been a concern across public sector services as the more infectious Omicron variant spreads in the community.

The outbreak board heard that 300 members of staff in care homes had been infected in the last few weeks.

Meanwhile, Norfolk and Waveney health and care system this week declared a critical incident, which is where the service acknowledges that it cannot fulfil services fully, while West Suffolk Hospital has declared an internal critical incident.

Both have come as a result of increased staff sickness coupled with the already high demand on services during the winter peak.

Measures trusts can take to alleviate pressure can include redeploying staff, creating additional bed capacity in hospitals or the community and greater prioritisation of patients.

Trusts have asked patients with less severe needs to be understanding if services take longer, while staff across the trusts have been praised for their efforts over the tricky winter so far.