NON-EMERGENCY operations across Surrey are being postponed because of escalating hospital staff sickness and self-isolation since the arrival of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Admissions in the South East have risen to their highest level since February last year, while the number of Surrey NHS hospital staff absent due to the virus is up by a quarter since the Covid-19 variant arrived in the county.
Some hospitals have also closed to visitors and Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership (HCP) is urging everybody to help ease the pressure by getting fully vaccinated.
A spokesperson said: “Due to high levels of demand for care and staff sickness we continue to prioritise critical services, such as emergency and cancer care, and unfortunately this means some non-urgent elective procedures may need to be rescheduled so we can prioritise patients who have more urgent needs.
“We are experiencing increased levels of staff sickness and this in part due to Covid and the need to isolate, but we have well-established plans in place to manage this which include bringing in temporary staff, redeploying to critical services where needed and working together as a system to provide mutual aid if required.”
NHS England figures show there are 1,471 confirmed Covid-19 patients in hospital in the South East outside London as of this Tuesday (January 4).
This is nearly double the 801 hospitalisations when the first case of Omicron in Surrey was confirmed on December 2.
It is also the highest number in the region since February 26 last year when there were 1,548.
However hospitalisation levels in the South East are nowhere near what they were this time last winter, standing at 4,730.
Beds occupied by coronavirus patients peaked at 5,577 on January 13 and began to subside after January 25, reaching their lowest point of 44 on June 14.
But the increased admissions of the past month, combined with infections among NHS staff, is placing a lot of stress on hospitals in the area.
There were 1,722 staff in NHS acute trusts covering Surrey absent due to sickness or self-isolation on Boxing Day.
This is an increase of 24.4 per cent since December 2 when Omicron was first detected in Surrey.
Because boundaries of the NHS Trusts and the county do not coincide, data also include St Helier, Heatherwood and Wexham Park hospitals.
Dr Claire Fuller, senior responsible officer and chief executive designate for Surrey Heartlands HCP, said: “Frontline staff across our local system – in hospital, community, GP, mental health, ambulance, NHS 111 and social care services – continue to work incredibly hard together to deliver care and services across Surrey and remain extremely busy.
“We know getting fully vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your family.
“We have teams vaccinating thousands of people across Surrey Heartlands every day and would encourage anyone due for their Covid vaccine or booster to get booked in.”
The Royal Surrey in Guildford requires any visitors to have had at least one vaccination where possible, and patients must choose visitors who are not exempt from wearing a mask.
Visitors must also make an appointment in advance and provide photographic evidence of a negative lateral flow test, as at East Surrey Hospital in Redhill.
Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals have been closed to most visitors since before Christmas because of Omicron. See exceptions here.
Visiting was also suspended at Frimley Park Hospital at the weekend, while Epsom Hospital is only permitting visitors to paediatrics and neonatal services.
Despite increased admissions with Omicron, data on use of ventilators suggest milder symptoms.
There are less than half the number of Covid patients in mechanical ventilation beds (84) as there was at the end of February (196), when a similar number of people were hospitalised with Covid in the South East (1,451).
Book a coronavirus vaccine at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/ or find your nearest vaccination clinic at https://www.surreyheartlandsccg.nhs.uk/covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-centres