Four hospital trusts in the North-East have suspended visits to adult wards because of rapidly rising Covid cases.
Wards in County Durham and Darlington, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland, and North Tees and Hartlepool have now stopped visits from relatives and friends.
The news comes as a shortage of beds, staff absences and ongoing cases of Omicron all add to what is a crisis across the region’s medical sites.
Melanie Johnson, Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Due to a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 admissions in our hospitals, we have had to make the difficult decision to suspend visiting to all of our adult inpatient wards.
“We know how important visiting is, so we understand how frustrating this news will be for our patients and their loved ones.
“The new Omicron variant is highly transmissible and for the safety of our patients and our staff, we need to urge everyone to continue to be vigilant. If you haven’t had your COVID-19 vaccine I would urge you to do so – the vaccine is the best form of defence we have.
“Please continue to wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds or more, adhere to social distancing wherever possible and continue to wear face masks or coverings in public to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.”
Take this step and minimise the risk of the virus spreading across our hospital sites.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust say under exceptional circumstances visitors will still be welcomed and people are advised to contact the ward their relative is on to discuss individual circumstance
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust added: “We will continue to monitor and consider this position to look at the possible, safe reintroduction of visiting and how this would be managed. Current restrictions will remain in place while community prevalence, hospital admissions and outbreaks remain high. Please be kind to our colleagues when they are making-arrangements with you, they are following our guidelines to help protect all patients.”
Nicola Bruce, director of operations at Gateshead Health Foundation Trust, said: “The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now spreading rapidly in the local community and whilst we have been trying to maintain some visiting because we realise how important this is to patients and relatives, unfortunately, the increase in cases does now pose a greater risk of our patients acquiring the virus.
“A proportion of people with Omicron appear to have no symptoms and, regrettably, we have seen some transmission in our hospitals which has been linked to visiting.”
Meanwhile as a result of recent covid figures NHS bosses have warned: “Regrettably some planned operations and procedures may need to be postponed”.
The North-East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System is the new organisation overseeing healthcare across an area stretching from Teesside to Northumberland and into North Cumbria. It’s Medical Director Dr Neil Halford explained: “GP practices, ambulance services and hospital trusts across the North-East and north Cumbria continue to work under extreme and increasing pressure.
“We thank each of them for their continued effort, flexibility and dedication.”
As of January 3, the ICS revealed there were 646 patients with Covid-19 in hospital. This makes up 8 per cent of the total NHS beds available – an increase of 137 per cent since Christmas Eve last year.
Staff sickness has also increased rapidly due to Covid-19. On January 2, 4 per cent of the area’s hospital workforce was off sick because of self-isolation or having Covid-19.
Responding to the story people were waiting up to two hours for an ambulance in the region Dr. Hilary Jones on Good Morning Britain said: “This is an emergency situation that we’re in now if we’re asking people with suspected heart attacks to be driven in using a taxi because they’re going to get to hospital quicker than waiting for an ambulance.
He described the current state of staff absences at NHS trusts due to a rise in Covid cases as a “bit of a crisis” and an “emergency situation”.
Meanwhile all the region’s hospitals are asking people not to turn up at A & E departments unless it’s absolutely necessary.