Virus costs thousands of hospital staff working days in Northumberland

Thousands of working days at hospitals in Northumberland were lost because of coronavirus during the first few months of the pandemic, new figures show.

The Royal College of Nursing warned hospitals can "ill-afford to lose more staff" in the face of second wave of the virus, warning that rapid testing must be a priority as cases start to rise once more.

NHS Digital data shows 4,187 working days were lost due to Covid-19 absence at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust – which runs the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Hospital in Cramlington – between March and May.

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It means the virus was responsible for 12% of the 33,547 total days lost due to sickness over the three months.

Most Covid-related absences were reported in April – during the peak of the first wave – when 2,160 days were lost.

The figures include staff who contracted the virus, as well as those who had to quarantine because a family member showed symptoms, because of travel restrictions or because they had been advised to by contact tracers.

Across England, more than 1.3 million days of work were lost in the NHS due to coronavirus-related sickness between March and May.

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Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said it was not clear how many of the absences were avoidable.

She said: “These figures show how the real impact of Covid-19 on NHS staff absences continued into the summer even as the initial surge in cases abated.

"Nearly one in five days lost due to absence during May were Covid-related.

"Providing a safe environment for staff and patients is an absolute priority for trusts which is why capacity for regular testing is so important."

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Royal College of Nursing's England director, Mike Adams, said some staff members are still reporting having to drive long distances for tests and delays in getting results.

He said: "When wards and clinics are crying out for nursing staff, they can ill-afford to lose more. They must follow the self-isolation guidelines but only rapid and priority testing will get them back to work."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently announced that staff providing acute clinical care would be prioritised for tests, followed by people in care homes and other NHS staff.