Coronavirus meant 1,000 Suffolk hospital staff were off

More than 1,000 hospital staff were absent from one Suffolk NHS trust during the last lockdown, after developing coronavirus symptoms or having to self-isolate.

The huge absences meant more than a quarter of all workers were off on some days – but as cases begin to rise again, hospitals say they are better prepared this time around.

Figures from NHS England reveal that 1,128 East Suffolk and North Essex NHS trust staff were unable to work on March 25 because they had virus symptoms or were self-isolating.

With a further 1,702 off work at the same time for non-virus reasons, more than a quarter of the trust’s 9,557 workforce were unavailable during the height of the crisis.

The most recent staffing figures for the trust show 534 staff absences, with 83 related to coronavirus as of October 1.

Meanwhile, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust staff Covid absences peaked at 244 on April 10, with a further 358 of the trusts 4,500 staff off for non-Covid reasons on the same day.

The figures shine a light on the pressures faced by NHS trusts as they battled against the virus in Suffolk.

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With hospital admission soaring in the north of England, and England’s medical director Stephen Powis warning there are now more people in hospital with the virus than at the beginning of March, Suffolk’s NHS bosses have confirmed plans are in place to deal with increased staff absences.

Suffolk and Essex hospitals say staff have been “upskilled” so that they can cover different departments, while a “detailed resourcing plan” has been drawn up to deal with mass absences.

Director of HR at East Suffolk and North Essex, Leigh Howlett, said: “We have been working closely with our staff and managers to make sure colleagues who have been shielding can safely return to work when they are able to.

“We also have an active wellbeing programme in place to help all of our staff maintain their physical and mental health as we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and restart our services.”

While West Suffolk NHS trust was unable to give details of any plans to cover large scale staff absence in the event of a second wave, a spokesman said: “We have nothing but praise for the way our wonderful staff have worked since the start of the pandemic.

“If there was to be a second wave in west Suffolk, we know we have a workforce that has huge amounts of experience, flexibility and resilience and would be ready to provide care for residents that visit our hospital or need support in the community.”

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