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Hospitals start to limit services as NHS official warns visitors may be banned to stop Omicron spread

In increasing number of hospitals may be forced to ban visitors as part of “difficult choices” made to stymie the spread of Omicron, an NHS official has warned.

Services have already been limited at hospitals across the UK as Covid infections reach record levels. Morriston Hospital in Swansea, Wales, became the latest to introduce stricter measures today, announcing that its emergency department will now treat only patients with life-threatening illness or serious injury.

It follows bans on visitors which were brought in at Northampton General and Kettering General in Northamptonshire, England, yesterday to “reduce the risk of Covid-19 being introduced”.

NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor, said hospital managers are having to make very difficult choices and that excluding visitors “is one of those very difficult choices”.

“It’s not something that anybody wants to do, it’s a last resort,” he told BBC Breakfast. “But, when you’re facing the kind of pressures the health service is going to be under for the next few weeks, this is the kind of thing managers have to do.”

Mr Taylor, who heads up the body which represents NHS trusts, said the pressure hospitals face will determine the response to try and reduce risks.

He added: “I understand how much people want to return to normal and I’m confident that, as this year progresses, we will be able to do that, and we all hope that 2022 is the year in which coronavirus just becomes an illness that we live with, not an illness that dominates our lives.

“But you can have the optimism but still recognise the next few weeks are going to be very tough and we need to do whatever is necessary to get us through these next few weeks”.

In a tweet this morning, Swansea Bay NHS said: “A staff shortage worsened by Covid means we can only provide a limited service at Morriston ED over the bank holiday weekend.

“ED is for life-threatening illness or serious injury ONLY. Please use alternatives whenever possible.”

Northampton and Kettering hospitals said visiting will be suspended unless it is for a patient’s last days of life or other limited circumstances.

“We’ve taken this decision to reduce the risk of Covid-19 being introduced into the hospital environment at a time when infections in the community are rising rapidly,” the hospitals said in a joint statement.

“We apologise for having to take this step as we are fully aware of the impact suspending visiting has on our patients and those close to them.”

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It comes as Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that further Covid restrictions “must be an absolute last resort” and agreed with Mr Taylor that Omicron may “test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter”.

Hospital admissions in England have risen to their highest level since January 2021 with a further 189,846 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases recorded on New Year’s Eve.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the council at the British Medical Association, told Sky News that over 25,000 patients were admitted with Covid-19 in the four-week period leading up to Christmas and thus prevented six million people on the NHS waiting list to be treated.

“What’s concerning is that we are seeing significant increases in people in hospital,” he said. “In fact, as of yesterday, the number of people admitted and also the number of patients in hospital is at a level as high as during the lockdown earlier this year in spring, in February-March.

“Now that is a significant number and it is increasing, so while the proportion of people who end up in hospital as a result of Omicron is smaller, we are definitely seeing significant increases.”

Mr Javid, writing in the Daily Mail, said: “Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them.

“Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns,” the Health Secretary continued.

“So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.”




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