THE South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) currently has 152 staff members not available to work, which includes staff members who are self-isolating after being in contact with someone who is Covid-19 positive.
In a media briefing held on Monday, October 12, The Western Health and Social Care Trust outlined their position in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Trust confirmed that both SWAH and Altnagelvin are currently experiencing a surge of Covid-19 patients. In terms of surge plans, the SWAH is currently at an ‘Amber/Medium’ stage, and Altnagelvin is at ‘Red/High’.
The commitment in these surge plans generally is that at a Low (Green) Surge stage, the Trust will endeavour to continue to deliver on the projected service activity levels over the Winter period.
At a Medium (Amber) Surge stage, certainly in the acute hospital setting, and at High (Red) Surge stage in all service areas, there will be a scaling-down and/or potentially standing down of some services to allow the Trust to prioritise critical and frontline Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 care for the sickest patients. 
As of Tuesday, October 13, the SWAH has 152 staff members not available to work; however, that number fluctuates daily, with the Trust stressing that 94 people from that figure were non-Covid related absences.
Staff may be isolating for a number of reasons, such as because they have symptoms themselves and are awaiting test results, or because of contact with a family member, the community, colleague or patient where here was potential exposure.
In addition, a number of SWAH staff are also isolating who are more than 28 weeks pregnant.
A Trust statement to The Impartial Reporter read: “In terms of testing, staff in need of testing link with their line manager and an appointment will be made for them. The Trust has separate testing facilities for staff and their households.
“Anyone who is a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case still has to isolate for 14 days even if they have a negative test.
“In regards to those staff members off [for Covid-related reasons], although they have a negative test, they still can’t go back to work for 14 days.”
During the briefing on Monday, where it was highlighted that the number of staff members not available last Friday, October 9 at the SWAH was 115, Geraldine McKay, Director of Acute Services at The Trust, said: “A lot of our workforce live in the area of Strabane, and Derry, and also as you would imagine, Fermanagh and Omagh, and some staff live in Donegal, so the impact of the community transmission is also causing our staff to be self-isolating.”
Highlighting how this is an “extremely challenging position” for The Trust in terms of how it does business, and what services it can provide at this time, Mrs. McKay added: “We are very conscious that we have already made decisions around elective orthopaedics.
“I want to assure you that as of today [Monday], we are still providing cancer surgery, and clinically urgent surgery, and at this time daycase orthopaedic surgery.
“In terms of maintaining services, it is very challenging, and it is being reviewed on a daily basis,” she said.
Also that day, Mrs. McKay stated that the SWAH is still maintaining its out-patient, in-patient and day cases services.
However, she noted that two things are impacting on this – the challenge of the increase in numbers of Covid-19 cases in the hospitals, and the availability of staff.
“This is becoming increasingly difficult, and we can’t continue to do that in the longer-term, so we will probably be making decisions about that later on this week.
“This is a very challenging time for us on a daily basis and on an hourly basis; at this stage we are reviewing it.
“We are trying to maintain the current services that we were doing before this phase, but it is very challenging, considering the number of staff not available to us at this time,” said Mrs. McKay.