THERE are growing fears for the sustainability of local health services, with record levels of Covid in the community creating “an extremely concerning” situation at the Western Trust.
That was the stark message from chief executive Neil Guckian at the January meeting of the Western Trust board last Thursday, where he outlined how surging demand and severe staff shortages were putting “unprecedented pressure” on “all programmes and services in the Trust.”
“In terms of the western area we are experiencing the highest level of Covid positive cases in the community in recent days, the highest levels in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“This is a major concern to us and is likely to lead to hospitalisations over the next number of weeks in hospitals that are already above capacity and struggling.”
With regard staffing pressures, Mr Guckian revealed thousands of the Trust’s 12,000 workforce were currently absent, noting almost all services across the organisation were being impacted.
“On average we have 14.1 percent of the workforce absent due to Covid and other sickness. That’s on top of vacancy levels, and on top of other problems,” he said.
“That is an average, so inevitably some areas will be higher than average and some places with be lower than average. Even that 14.1 percent figure is of concern.”
He added: “From children’s services to mental health and disability, we’ve been identifying contingency plans to try to sustain services.
“Private nursing homes are experiencing significant outbreaks over the last few weeks, many linked to staff contracting Covid. Likewise in our domiciliary care providers, they are experiencing up to 19 percent absence levels, leading to reduced service and indeed issues around discharge.”
Mr Guckian said there were a number of ways the public can help ease the pressure.
“First of all, we need help with discharge,” said Trust chief, who had previously explained how the delayed discharge of medically fit patients was clogging up the hospital system by taking up beds and leading to long waits for admission.
“If we can’t offer the package of care or placement that is preferred by a family or a patient, please work with us to support timely discharge. An acute hospital is not the best location if you’re medically fit for discharge. We will ensure no patients or families are disadvantaged by this, either financially or in terms of access to packages of care.”
More generally, in terms of the current Covid surge, Mr Guckian asked everyone to “please adhere to social distancing, mask wearing, ventilation, and hand hygiene, to limit the spread of Covid, particularly Omicron.”
He also urged anyone who had not already done so to “please receive all vaccinations including the booster, and please do so now.”
Noting the Trust continued to run both its mass vaccination centres and mobile clinics, Mr Guckian noted bookings for boosters had begun to drop.
“I really want to emphasise the need for everyone to get boosted,” he said.
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