Omicron COVID Strain
The new COVID variant was initially detected in South Africa and Botswana and sparked major concerns due to its high number of mutations (32). The WHO dubbed the strain Omicron and warned it may prove to be more transmissible and dangerous than other coronavirus variants.
Hospital Missing 500 Staff With COVID Says Only Come to A&E if You're Near Death
Hospitals across the country were severely strained earlier in the coronavirus pandemic thanks to tens thousands of admissions in the first two waves, but continued limited access to family doctors is funnelling patients with minor ailments to accident and emergency departments.
The biggest hospital in south-west England has urged locals to only come to A&E with life-threatening illness amid a COVID-19 outbreak among staff.
Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, Devon, issued a plea to residents after almost 500 of its nearly 10,000 staff tested positive for the virus and were forced to isolate at home.
"Please come to the emergency department if you have a life threatening condition like severe breathlessness, chest pain, severe blood loss, symptoms of stroke or collapse," a message on the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust website reads.
"Attendances in our Emergency Department are high; there are ongoing challenges in discharging patients who are well enough to leave hospital, and we are seeing an increase in staff sickness — all of which leads to longer waits than we would like for patients to be seen and admitted, said trust Chief Operating Officer Jo Beer.
Patients are told to go to their local general practitioner (GP), dentist, urgent treatment centres, minor injuries units, telephone services like 111 or even pharmacies for all other conditions.
But British GPs have severely limited access to face-to-face appointments since the first lockdown in March 2020, offering only telephone or even online questionnaire consultations.
Plymouth also has a chronic shortage of dentists, with low-cost NHS treatment virtually unavailable except for one overloaded emergency clinic in the city centre.
One nurse at the hospital said Emergency Department had been extremely busy even before Christmas as a result.
Beer said the hospital had also experience greater demand for beds, with 99 admitted patients now infected with COVID-19. But she urged locals not to panic.
"We don't want people to be alarmed by this. We took the decision to escalate to the highest level of internal incident because this allows us to be able to take additional steps to maintain safe services for our patients and help us cope with the growing pressures," Beer said. "Please be assured, we are still here for you, if need us, in an emergency."