The Omicron variant has brought with it a surge in new Covid infections. It has left many businesses and frontline NHS services severely depleted in terms of staff numbers. How are they coping?
‘Covid has been a complete nightmare’
Dr Tamara Keith, a partner at Bottisham Medical Practice, in Cambridgeshire, says the surgery currently has two people off sick with Covid and five – including herself – currently isolating until they get a negative PCR test result.
The situation, she says, affects the running of the surgery “hugely”.
“We are falling like flies at the moment so I can see there may be a situation when nobody is left at the surgery,” says Dr Keith.
“If there is nobody there to see patients then obviously that is going to have an immediate knock-on impact.
“The other impact immediately today is that I was due to do two care home ward rounds and I am not able to do that whilst awaiting a PCR test result – it could really expose the whole care home to Covid. It would be a very unsafe situation.
“So I am going to do those ward rounds on video. It is not ideal but it is better than not going at all and, any patients that I really do feel need to have a face-to-face, then one of my colleagues will have to go to see them.
“Covid has been a complete nightmare to be honest and we just hoped that 2022 was going to bring new light at the end of the tunnel. I think it will eventually. It is more the absolute hassle of us all having to isolate awaiting results of tests.
“Any staff – especially GPs – if we’re off then it is all very well saying we can do telephone consultations but when we want to bring someone in for a face-to-face, one of our colleagues then needs to see them.
“And if there are no colleagues left, then there’s no-one left available to see someone.”
‘Turning people away is so gutting’
The Lab Cocktail Bar in Cambridge was looking forward to a busy and prosperous time over the new year.
But it has been plagued with staff having to self-isolate and, with up to a third of its staff away from work at any one time, it has yet to reopen.
“We are a fairly small team of 15 and we’ve had, at different times, three to four members of staff off isolating,” says Amy Hayden, one of the managers at the bar.
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The bar closed on 22 December and initially planned to reopen on 29 December in time for the new year’s trade.
“Unfortunately, due to staff isolating, we shut on the 22nd and will reopen on Friday,” she says.
“It is so difficult, especially when you’ve got 50 to 60 tables booked for New Year’s Eve and everybody is obviously so excited to come out and celebrate and to have to – two days beforehand – turn all of these people away and tell them we just can’t have them is really gutting.”
She says it has badly affected the business because December often accounts for between a fifth and a quarter of expected annual takings.
“It has definitely affected us,” she says.
‘Cutting rounds would be a last resort’
West Northamptonshire Council says it has drawn up contingency plans for up to 25% of its bin collection staff being off from work through illness or isolation.
“Obviously cutting out rounds or anything like that is the real last resort,” says Phil Larrett, cabinet member responsible for waste collection at the Conservative-run authority.
“If we do have to cut them out on a particular day we do always try to get there the next day to make sure the service is continued.
“We do everything we possibly can to ensure the service.
“We’ve got arrangements with agencies and hopefully we can recruit staff from agencies and taken them on on a temporary basis and that has worked very well in the past.
“We’ve planned for a 25% non-availability of staff. We have come nowhere near that as yet and hopefully we won’t.”
‘I don’t think we’ve probably seen the worst of it yet’
Prof Erika Denton, medical director at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says: “As a whole system across Norfolk and Waveney, which includes our colleagues in the ambulance trust, the community trust and social care, we are all in that highest level of concern at the moment.”
It is understood the hospital currently has about 90 Covid patients.
“Absolutely everywhere is very busy and of course we have the challenge of lots of members of our staff being off with Covid or having to isolate while they wait for a family member to recover.
“That is giving us some really big challenges.”
She says about 6% of staff are currently away from work at the hospital.
“I think we are a couple of weeks behind London so I don’t think we’ve probably seen the worst of it yet in Norfolk and we are likely to see a peak from people going out and meeting friends over the new year.
“I think that’s an inevitability to be honest.”
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