North Mid ‘turning corner’ amid Omicron wave

Less than 100 Covid-19 patients now being treated at Edmonton hospital, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Dr Nnenna Osuji (inset) is the chief executive of North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
Dr Nnenna Osuji (inset) is the chief executive of North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust

North Mid is “turning a corner” in the battle against the Omicron Covid-19 variant amid falling numbers of patients with the virus and reduced staff absences.

Dr Nnenna Osuji, chief executive of North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, said the number of inpatients with the virus had fallen below 100 for the first time in weeks.

The trust is continuing its efforts to convince staff and the wider public to get vaccinated, which the chief executive described as “the safest, most effective protection we have against Covid”.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service yesterday (Monday), Dr Osuji said: “It does feel like we are turning a corner, if not turned a corner.

“At the peak of this wave, we had somewhere between 130 and 160 [Covid] inpatients at any one time. That was sustained for a period of time. As of today, we have less than 100 inpatients with Covid for the first time in many, many weeks.”

Dr Osuji said that while there is “a lot of talk” about the Omicron variant producing milder symptoms, the number of people infected had been larger than during the Delta wave, leading to a “quite significant” number attending and being admitted to hospital.

She added: “What we have noticed is that the people who tended to be illest and the people who tended to need admission were largely those who were not vaccinated.”

Like many other hospitals, North Mid has been hit by staff absences because of people having to self-isolate. The chief executive said: “We had more than 200 staff off at one moment in time because of Covid-related issues. That is hugely significant, and at this moment we are well below 100 staff, so that is a huge improvement.”

From 1st January, as Covid cases remained high, the trust restricted ward visits to certain groups of patients for safety reasons. Dr Osuji said the trust would revert to normal visiting hours “as soon as we reasonably can”.

She added: “It is [a decision] we have had to take in the public interest for safety and infection prevention, but as soon as we can we will be reversing that. While we have had to restrict it, we recognise the need for compassionate visiting in certain circumstances, and also to have other mechanisms of contact – phone calls and iPads, for example.”

During the first wave of the pandemic, North Mid and other trusts were forced to cancel non-emergency or ‘elective’ procedures as they focused on treating Covid-19 cases, creating a backlog of patients waiting to be treated.

Dr Osuji said North Mid had not stopped elective treatments during the Omicron wave, although it had been forced to defer some surgeries, and she apologised to those who had been affected by delays.

The chief executive added that Chase Farm Hospital and other partners had “continued to provide the vast majority of surgery throughout this period” and the trust would focus on reducing the backlog of cases.

The NHS is now racing to encourage staff to get vaccinated ahead of a fast-approaching government deadline. Frontline staff are required to have their first jab by 3rd February and their second by 1st April, leading to fears more than 70,000 NHS staff in England could potentially be at risk of losing their jobs.

According to statistics published by the NHS earlier this month, 88.3% of healthcare workers at North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust had received a first dose of the vaccine, 83.5% had received a second dose and 60.2% had received a booster or third dose.

Dr Osuji said the trust was continuing to encourage all staff to receive the vaccine, offering conversations and listening events, and directing them to national listening events.

She added: “This is a mandate, so we are very clear. We are being open, honest and frank with staff that the consequences of not being vaccinated at the right time are what they will be, and for some that might include not having a job, so we want people to be well informed to make the decisions they need to make in a timely manner.”

Seeking to address the fears of those still reluctant to have the vaccine, Dr Osuji said that because a pandemic was expected at some point, the “biological thinking” behind the vaccine had already been done, and it had gone through “every step to make sure it was safe and effective”.

She added that “extensive trials” had shown the vaccine to be safe, and it had not caused “significant, large-scale side-effects”.

Dr Osuji thanked staff for doing “a phenomenal job”, including those who had covered shifts to ensure that “at all times staffing on all our wards remained at a safe level”.