MORE than 1,300 employees of the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) were unavailable to work as of last Friday, the Director of Acute Services, Geraldine McKay, has revealed.

Across the Trust region, 1,328 staff – comprising 697 people working in community care, 492 at Altnagelvin, and 139 at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH), some 8 per cent of the hospital’s workforce – were unavailable to work.

At a briefing on Friday, November 6, Mrs. McKay said that while these absences have had quite an impact across the Trust, the SWAH has been able to maintain all planned surgeries at the minute, with the exception of those which had been cancelled by the patient.

However, she noted that with Covid-19 numbers increasing at the hospital, they were reviewing the position on a daily basis compared to the northern region of the Trust, where she said Covid cases were “plateauing”.

In terms of patients cancelling scheduled surgeries, Mrs. McKay said: “Over the past couple of weeks we have noticed, as we have been reviewing the numbers, a slight concern over patients who have cancelled [their appointments].

“There have been 13 patients who cancelled their surgery, related to Covid fears, fear of coming to [a] hospital.”

Mrs. McKay added they were working to make arrangements to reduce fears and encourage patients to come to their surgery.

Moving on to the ED at the SWAH, Mrs. McKay revealed that the numbers of people attending the department have returned to the same levels as before the first wave.

“In terms of attendances, we are very aware it is different from surge one. The numbers attending our departments reduced drastically, to a point we had to go out and tell people if they felt sick or ill, or if they needed to come to hospital, to please come, because we were concerned there was a real reduction in numbers.

“It’s quite different this time. The SWAH numbers are steady and have returned to pre-first surge number, and they are continuing to see that level of attendance on a daily basis.”

With the northern part of the region looking as if it is coming out of the second surge of Covid-19, it seems as if the southern region – which includes Fermanagh – is starting to feel the effects of the second surge; however, Mrs. McKay explained, not with the same intensity.

“Numbers are steadily rising over the past week. We have gone from 14, to 16, to 18 – the difference is they are manageable patients in ward areas.

“Even though the numbers are rising, they are rising steadily and slowly, and they are manageable and they are in ward areas, rather than the impact being seen in our critical care areas. We are managing it on a daily basis, and we are reviewing what we are doing on a daily basis.”

However, she added that the Trust has plans in place to deal with the current second surge, with hospitals currently at a “high surge” state of engagement, and she expects it to be that way for the next couple of weeks.