Thirty armed forces personnel will assist hospitals in the county for two weeks, as United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust tries to work through the ‘critical incident’ it declared on New Year’s Day.
A major incident was declared at 3pm on January 11 due to a water supply issue at Grantham hospital and long wait times at A&E and for beds, so operations and outpatient appointments in Lincoln were postponed. The major incident was in place until 10am on Wednesday, January 12.
ULHT announced on Wednesday that it had stepped down from a ‘major incident’ meaning that elective surgeries and outpatient appointments will resume on Thursday, January 13. This was in addition to the ‘critical incident’, which was declared after ‘extreme and unprecedented’ staff shortages, remains in place.
This comes at a time when around 780 employees are off work, and the trust’s hospital sites have 74 patients with coronavirus as of Wednesday morning – 46 in Lincoln, 21 in Boston, and seven in Grantham.
Andrew Morgan, Chief Executive at ULHT, told The Lincolnite that the ‘critical incident’ needs to remain in place as the trust “still has significant pressures around service demand and staffing”.
Elective surgeries and outpatient appointments which were cancelled are in the process of being rebooked on a date convenient for both parties from Thursday onwards, but he was unable to confirm how many had previously been postponed.
Andrew said: “We are now getting some armed forces support. The armed forces have helped the NHS during the pandemic across the country. As of tomorrow (Thursday, January 13) we should have 20 military personnel, who are clinical staff and will help in our emergency departments in Lincoln and Boston, and on the wards where needed.
“They will be joined by a further 10 military general personnel in the near future, and they will all be with us for around two weeks.”
This will help ease the pressure on the staffing concerns at the trust’s hospital sites after Andrew confirmed that, as of Wednesday morning, 780 workers are absent.
This includes just over 300 employees who are currently off with coronavirus. Others are off for a range of reasons and the number of absent staff equates to around 9%-10% of the workforce.
Andrew said: “We are trying to fill (the rota) with bank shifts for our own workforce. We do go out to agencies as well and redeploy staff if we can, and have help from our colleagues in the rest of the health system.
“The staffing is one of the factors why we remain in a critical incident. One of the issues with COVID is, sickness can be short notice.
“There are still pressures across our sites and staffing concerns that we had when it (the critical incident) was put in place are still there. It is making it difficult on occasions to fill shifts to the level we want. We do look at the critical incident twice a day and if we can deescalate it then we will.
“Huge apologies to those who have been inconvenienced by appointments being cancelled or postponed, or anyone who had to wait longer than they would have liked in our emergency departments. We are available for those who need our services.
“One of the key messages is that our hospitals are still open. Our emergency departments and essential services are still open and patients should come forward if they believe they need hospital care.”
When asked how long he anticipates the critical incident to be in place for, and if it will ease after the fortnight of help from the armed forces, he added: “I can’t predict the date when we will be able to lift it. Once staffing gets back to levels that are more sustainable and predictable we can look at removing the critical incident.”
Meanwhile, patient visiting remains restricted at all United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust hospitals – see more information here.