HOSPITAL on ‘BLACK ALERT’ after surge in Covid patients and 900 NHS workers off sick or in isolation

A HOSPITAL has today placed itself on the highest alert level after 900 NHS workers were sent home sick or forced to self-isolate following a surge in coronavirus patients.

The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital is struggling to cope with the demands of dealing with Covid-19 and has moved into OPEL 4, previously known as “black alert”.

Their decision was made due to a combination of high numbers of patients with Covid and hundreds of staff being forced off work due to the virus.

Medical director at the hospital Prof Adrian Harris said the “critical incident” was declared as about 10 per cent of staff are currently off work.

He has urged people to only go to the hospital “when they really, really need to”.

Prof Harris said there were “over 900 staff away at the moment” and the hospital was running an absence rate of “more than double” what would normally be expected at this time of year.

A number of wards have been closed and “we are very, very short of staff,” he added.

Some 411 staff were declared off work from the RD&E due to Covid-19 related illness, either through sickness or self-isolation as of December 2.

Figures for November 11 showed the hospital had 614 staff off for Covid-related reasons.

And a further 412 general absences were recorded – meaning the hospital was down by 1,026 workers that day.

Bosses said the pressures on the hospital has left it unable to deliver comprehensive care with patients not needing emergency care urged to stay away.

Only people with serious and life-threatening conditions should attend the emergency department and should do so by calling 999, a spokesperson said today.

And the hospital has now warned the situation has led to an “increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised”.

Professor Adrian Harris, RD&E medical director and deputy chief executive, said that that despite the pressures the hospital is facing it is “important” that those who need emergency or urgent care phone 999 or attend the emergency department.

He added: “We take infection prevention and control extremely seriously at the RD&E and in line with national guidance, we have strong processes in place to keep patients and staff as safe as possible.

“Hospital acquired infections can occur despite the very rigorous safeguards in place, although such incidences are low.

“However, if a patient does test positive for Covid-19, we have to shut whole wards or bays, and this leads to a shortage of beds.

At the same time, we are facing severe pressures as a result of staff being absent from work due to Covid-19 and non-Covid illness or self-isolation.”Professor Adrian Harris

“At the same time, we are facing severe pressures as a result of staff being absent from work due to Covid-19 and non-Covid illness or self-isolation.

“As always, our top priority is to continue delivering safe, quality care. To help us ensure this, I am asking people who do not need emergency or urgent care to phone 111 or contact primary care.

“This will help ease the burden on our overstretched services at this time. It is important to stress, though, that if you do need emergency or urgent care, phone 999 or attend the Emergency Department.

“In addition, where patients are medically well and able to leave hospital but cannot be discharged as there is nowhere available for their onward care, we are asking loved ones, where appropriate, to help make the necessary arrangements for them to be cared safely in other settings – either at home or in a care home.”

A number of measures are now in place to help the hospital out of the highest alert level.

Anyone needing urgent care is asked to call 111 or visit 111 online before coming to the emergency department with waiting times significantly longer than normal.