Latitude labelled 'Covid fest' by health boss as staff forced to isolate

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. 

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: NNUH

Hospital bosses said staffing numbers have been hit by "the Covid fest" as it continues to tackle its backlog of services amid a small rise in admissions. 

Chris Cobb, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's chief operating officer, told a board meeting on Wednesday the workforce had been reduced "quite significantly" with a number of staff isolating as a result of attending Latitude. 

Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. Pic:ture: Archant

Chris Cobb, chief operating officer, has said the workforce has been reduced - Credit: Archant

The Henham Park event welcomed 40,000 people through the gate as a government test event, with attendees required to have two Covid-19 jabs or a negative test before arrival. 

Public health bosses in Suffolk have said that everything that was needed for Latitude Festival to go ahead safely was done, and that between 300 and 400 Covid-19 cases among festival-goers would be consistent with levels of infection spread in the community.

Mr Cobb said as of Wednesday morning 5.5pc of staff were not at the hospital, of which 1.5pc was for Covid related reasons - though this is not all in relation to the festival. 

During Wednesday's meeting the festival was called "the Covid fest" by board members but Mr Cobb said this was very short lived. 

Mr Cobb said: "This pingdemic thing the nation has experienced over the last two or three weeks of the trace app reducing our workforce quite significantly.

"Quite a number of our staff went to Latitude Festival, the Covid fest, and we have lost a lot of people as a consequence of that and some very key people at the moment. Luckily that is very short lived for us." 

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"It's very variable on a daily basis. At the peak of last week, we had 185 people that we could identify were not in the building because of Covid related isolation."

Sam Higginson, cheif executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: NNUH

Sam Higginson, cheif executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: NNUH - Credit: Archant

Chief executive Sam Higginson said the trust would have to wait and see about government rules on self isolation from August 16,  but said it was a big factor in how the hospital was running at the moment.

The trust has been making progress through its urgent elective surgeries reducing the figure from 1,200 to 360 in June, as part of plans to clear the backlog by August. 

Mr Cobb told the meeting: "We are suffering a little bit at the moment through workforce absences and a few things that have let us down so it has plateaued a bit." 

Medical director Erika Denton said many members of staff had been able to work from home.

She said: "Quite a lot of our doctors are doing clinical work remotely telephone clinics, administrative work, and other audit type work they can do from home while they are isolating. It's a very mixed picture, it's quite difficult to map the precise number of people unable to work." 

Organisers for Latitude Festival did not respond when contacted for comment.

The hospital has been treating between 15 to 20 Covid patients in recent weeks which was called a "significant step change" by the trust's CEO.

Mr Cobb reported critical care numbers have "stopped in their track", with only one patient being treated. 

The hospital has seen further pressures with patients going to A&E with concerns they have Covid or Long Covid. 

This was exacerbated said Mr Cobb by a 195pc increase in 111 calls, which is experiencing a shortage of handlers. 

He said the vast majority who did turn up did not have either but those admitted were "sicker and spending longer in hospital". 

A report to the James Paget University Hospital board last Friday said that sickness absence rate had risen to 6pc due to test and trace. 

National guidance is supporting some staff to return if they have a negative PCR result which the board hoped would alleviate pressure.

Figures to the board showed 15 members of staff were off for Covid-19 sickness, 23 due to test and trace, and 58 isolating under the 10 day national guidance. A further 12 were isolating awaiting PCR. 

A Government spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said: "The findings are still being looked at and researched and will be published in due course." 

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