Covid horror: Military called to Greater Manchester hospitals as Omicron peak nears

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NHS hospitals in the region called for support as they risk being overwhelmed by the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus. The highly-transmissible variant has caused widespread staff shortages in the sector, with as many as one in seven healthcare staff unable to work.

Staff absences in Greater Manchester hospitals hover around 15 percent, according to Manchester Evening News.

The local publication adds that the number of COVID-positive patients in hospitals is higher than at the January 2021 peak.

However, unlike in previous waves, the pressure is concentrated on non-intensive care capacity.

General beds are over 90 percent full, meaning that much elective or non-emergency surgency has been scrapped temporarily.

NHS bosses are discussing how the military can assist with duties such as porter work and administration responsibilities, or basic patient care.

This could include feeding or providing supplies for those in overflow capacity beds, opened up within hospitals to cope with demand.

The Royal Oldham Hospital in north-east Greater Manchester was identified as one of the most struggling facilities.

Chris Brookes, acute lead for Greater Manchester and an A&E consultant at Salford Royal, said that January is always a particularly difficult month for healthcare services, but the pressure is heightened in 2022.

He said: “The word I’d use is uncomfortable.

“When bed occupancy is in the low to mid 90 percents, that is an uncomfortable place.”

He continued: “Where there has been much active conversation with the military is with respect to the support they can give to our ancillary services.

“Our portering staff are not immune from all of this; our cleaning staff are not immune to all of it; our admin staff; all those colleagues who are performing incredibly important functions.

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“That’s the place the military are looking to be able to support us, or where they may have skills in terms of pharmacy and pharmacy technicians.

“So that’s where conversations are happening with the military and I think that’s a good thing, to minimise the impact of staffing absence.”

Another senior doctor told Manchester Evening News that the first few days of the new year are “particularly tough”, adding that the “NHS has responded incredibly well, but we were bracing ourselves for this.” 

They added: “It has necessitated really high levels of cooperation between hospitals, and to be frank, if hospitals had functioned as ‘islands’ it wouldn’t have worked.

“That has put huge demands on staff, though.

“We’ve not been overwhelmed but, yet again, we’ve had to ask them to go above and beyond.”

The area has not yet declared a critical incident, but Dr Brookes added that “uncannily” accurate modelling suggests numbers for COVID-19 patients will continue to increase.

He said that “super surge beds” had been set up in parts of hospitals not typically used for patients in the style of the Nightingale hospitals across the country.

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