‘Pingdemic’ staff shortages saw 400 NHS appointments cancelled in Northumberland

Almost 400 appointments for x-rays, ultrasounds and other vital scans were lost in a single month thanks to the ‘pingdemic’.

Monday, 26th July 2021, 6:07 pm
Coronavirus up close.

The government has come under fire in recent weeks over huge numbers being told to isolate by the NHS app after suspected close contact with coronavirus.

And NHS bosses in Northumberland have warned they are also feeling the pinch, with workers forced to stay at home slashing the health system’s capacity to clear a waiting list backlog.

“We’ve struggled, like everybody else, with increasing Covid numbers again, but more so from staffing being pinged,” said Birju Bartoli, executive director of performance and improvement at Northumbria Healthcare.

“We’ve managed to decipher the rules of track and trace, but more staff are having to isolate because of children or household contacts that have turned positive.

“The big dip we’ve seen is in diagnostics – we lost nearly 400 slots because of staff who had to self-isolate.”

According to national guidelines, 99 per cent of patients referred for a diagnostic test, such as an endoscopy, CT or MRI scan, should be seen within six weeks.

Before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Northumbria Healthcare ‘consistently achieved’ that target.

But this slumped to just 75 per cent early in 2020/21 and while it has recovered since, the latest figures suggest it could still be months before it begins hitting that standard once more.

Disruption to food and fuel supplies have been blamed on shortages of workers across a range of industries caused by them being told to isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app.

In the week to July 14, a new record was set when more than 600,000 people were ‘pinged’.

Speaking in the House of Commons, South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said the ‘pingdemic’ had left key industries at ‘breaking point’ and had made the county ‘grind to a halt’.

And some have suggested the tougher rules now in place have made it harder to keep services running than at any point in the pandemic.

Bartoli told Northumberland County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee: “It’s a balance between managing the waiting list and the staff have been coming forward with extra sessions to try and mitigate that.

“But we’re compounded by what Covid is doing with track and trace and some would argue that it’s more challenging now than it was in wave one.”

He added: “A lot of staff are working extra and are willing to work their annual leave to ensure continuity of service, but we are also encouraging our staff to take some rest.”