Hospital suffering from 'pingdemic' despite low Covid numbers

Nick Hulme speaking at the meeting in the Corn Exchange. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Hospital chief Nick Hulme - Credit: Archant

Just four patients are being treated for Covid in Ipswich Hospital despite the rising number of cases in Suffolk - and that is not currently putting any direct pressure on hospital staff.

But there are serious problems caused by the "pingdemic" of staff being forced to self isolate after being alerted by the NHS Covid app - which is having a knock-on effect in the struggle to bring down waiting lists.

Hospital chief executive Nick Hulme, who is responsible for the Ipswich and Colchester sites, said there were four Covid patients in Ipswich and eight in Colchester. There are two Covid-positive patients being treated at the West Suffolk Hospital.

Mr Hulme said: "They are not directly putting pressure on us at the moment. But you have to remember that if you have a Covid patient in a bay you cannot have other non-Covid patients in the other five beds in the bay so every patient effectively knocks out six beds.

"But the numbers are still low and that is largely down to the vaccine."

But the Covid app was causing serious problems as the hospital struggles to catch up on elective surgery.

It has been forced to cancel dozens of routine operations because staff have have been told to self-isolate after falling victim to the "pingdemic" that has prompted many people to turn off the Covid app on their phone.

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On Friday 32 members of staff had to take time off because they had been "pinged" by the app because they - or their children - were considered to be a close contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid. On Thursday 40 people were off.

Mr Hulme said this has caused several elective surgery lists to be cancelled because vital specialist staff were not available: "The numbers may not look huge but many of them are vital members of the team and surgery simply cannot go ahead without them. If you lose a surgeon the whole team has to stand down."

The hospital is facing the longest waiting lists he could remember in 40 years of working in the NHS. "The situation is worse than before the Blair government came in and spent a lot of money to bring waiting lists down," he said.

He said there needed to he a hard look at how the app was working: "I'm not saying it necessarily has to be changed, but it needs to be looked at - particularly the way it tells people who have had both vaccines to self-isolate."