Covid hospital admissions in Greater Manchester exceed last winter’s peak

Covid admissions have already passed the peak of last winter’s wave in hospitals in Greater Manchester, north-west England, with health chiefs warning patient care is under threat as they are struggling to cope with “serious” staff shortages.

As of January 4, 1,229 Covid-positive patients were being treated in 10 hospital trusts in the Manchester area, the highest figure since the start of the pandemic, according to an FT analysis of weekly regional data from NHS England released on Friday. The figure exceeds the previous peak of just over 1,000 established last January.

Meanwhile, separate data showed that one in seven staff in acute trusts in the region was absent on January 2, with more than 3,000 staff sick or self-isolating due to Covid.

Two chief executives of NHS hospital trusts in the North West told the FT the region was most affected by the Omicron wave in England. A hospital boss described the pressure on the healthcare system from labor shortages as “severe”, adding that staff were “as harassed as they were last January” and warning that patient care “Would suffer”.

“We are the epicenter right now [and] there is no feeling that the problems are easing, ”said another managing director. “It’s hard to keep morale up but we know it will pass. They said “every staff member is potentially going to be redeployed” at some point to fill in the gaps due to absences.

They added that it was “possible” that hospitals in the region would need military support in the coming weeks, like hospitals in London which this week recruited 40 army doctors and 160 other staff to help alleviate staff shortages.

Across England, the latest data showed that as of January 7, the number of hospitalized Covid patients had doubled in the past 11 days to 16,163, just under half of last winter’s peak.

The number of hospital workers in England on sick leave due to Covid disease or self-isolation tripled in one month to reach 39,142 on January 2, bringing overall employee absence levels to 12 in short-term hospital trusts.

Data from the Office for National Statistics, released on Friday, estimated 3.7 million in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 31, up 64% from the previous week . Infection rates were highest in England, with around one in 15 people infected with the virus.

The rise in infections has raised fears that if the London health service, which was first affected by the new variant, appeared to have cope, the crisis in the Manchester area could repeat itself in other trusts regional NHS across England.

Chart showing Covid-related NHS staff absences have risen sharply in recent weeks, with more than one in ten staff now absent in some areas

Critical incidents have been reported at 24 of 137 hospitals in England over the past week, with two-thirds still under emergency measures, signaling staff shortages could threaten priority services. Earlier this week, 17 Greater Manchester hospitals suspended elective surgery.

Meanwhile, Northamptonshire on Friday announced a major system-wide incident amid fears of staff shortages in the NHS, social services and emergency services.

In London, Covid admissions fell 9 cents week-on-week in the seven days leading up to January 5. The equivalent figure a week earlier was a 50% increase.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health leaders, said some trusts outside London were already “under greater pressure” from Covid admissions than the capital although they did not still reached the peak.

“If we hit something like the peak in London, it hit around 50 percent of the previous load last January,” Hopson said. “But now we have places that are already starting their Omicron wave with a higher workload and two or three weeks of growth left. This could present a major problem.

Chart showing hospital admissions are now down in London and growth rates are slowing across the UK, but growth could continue for some time yet in the north

Latest statistics show hospitals in England are operating under greater overall pressure this winter than last year as they attempt to juggle Omicron’s double challenge and reduce the backlog of non-Covid patients with need treatment for other conditions that have accumulated due to widespread cancellations during previous waves of coronavirus.

In the fortnight to January 4, there were an average of 80,335 occupied adult beds across England, up 8% from a year earlier, while unoccupied beds fell 15% to 8,289 .

Professor Joe Harrison, managing director of Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Trust in Buckinghamshire, north London, said he was “desperate to keep [non-urgent care] will ”despite increasing pressure.

“For us, it’s not about the NHS being overwhelmed because we haven’t canceled all outpatient appointments yet like we did in the first wave,” he said.

“I don’t think what anyone controls is the ongoing damage [the Omicron wave] will affect the health of patients awaiting elective care, ”added Harrison.

An intensive care consultant with Barts Health NHS Trust in London, the country’s largest hospital trust, told the FT that by not imposing more restrictions in England, ministers had taken a risk but that in the capital ” at least the government’s bet [had] worked. ”He added,“ I feel like we are at the top in terms of hospital admissions. ”

Sarah Crofts, head of analytical results of the ONS infections survey, said there were “early signs” across England of a leveling off in infection rates in some groups of age, including high school children. London is the only part of the UK where infection levels fell in the last week.

Carol N. Valencia