Staff shortages and abuse: North London hospitals prepare for Christmas

Whittington and Royal Free hospitals

The Whittington and Royal Free hospital trusts are preparing for a busy Christmas, amid growing NHS staff shortages due to Covid-19 - Credit: Steve Parsons - PA Archive / Archant

Whittington Health NHS Trust is offering £500 bonuses to bank workers over Christmas and New Year, due to “unanticipated demand”.

The hospital trust set up the scheme in response to rising staff sickness, amid a surge of the Omicron variant.

At the nearby Royal Free Hospital, one nurse told the Ham&High that staff were facing physical and verbal abuse from visitors in denial about the severity of the pandemic.

Last week, Camden and Haringey were among the top ten boroughs in England for Covid-19 spread, with R numbers closer to two than one.

London is the epicentre of a new wave of Covid-19, which is seeing record new case numbers nationally every day.

Cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant have been detected in Haringey, Camden, Barnet and Westminster

Camden and Haringey were amongst the worst boroughs in England for Covid-19 spread last week, as London became the epicentre of a record-breaking new wave of the virus - Credit: PA

On November 22, there were 1,026 Covid-19 patients in London hospitals. By December 22, it was 2,036 and rising by roughly 100 per day.

On December 18, mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident, citing a combination of rising Covid-19 hospital cases and rising NHS sickness rates.

Bonuses

An email sent to bank staff by the Whittington trust announced a bonus scheme to tackle “unanticipated” staff shortages, predicted to last throughout Christmas and New Year.

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The scheme, due to run from December 20 to January 6, will see £250 bonuses paid to staff who work three extra shifts, and £500 to those who work five.

Whittington Hospital

The Whittington health trust is offering bonuses of up to £500 for staff who work extra shifts over Christmas and New Year, due to 'unanticipated demand' - Credit: Whittington Health Trust

The Whittington told the Ham&High it had run similar schemes in the past and was doing so this Christmas and New Year “to manage an increase in staff absence, which is being seen across the NHS but also in other areas”.

It said that while Covid cases were increasing, alongside the usual winter increase in general demand, it still had capacity to “provide safe and effective care and treatment”.

“We urge our local community to get vaccinated and boosted this Christmas, as it offers the best protection from severe illness,” a spokesperson said.

Covid Denial

Camden and Haringey are both in the bottom ten boroughs in England for vaccination take-up.

One nurse at the Royal Free said they and their colleagues had faced increasing abuse in recent weeks from people who did not accept the severity of the situation.

Boris Johnson watches a vaccine being administered at the Saracens Vaccine Centre run by the Royal

Boris Johnson visited a vaccine centre run by the Royal Free NHS Trust earlier this year - but the surrounding area has one of the worst vaccine uptake rates in the country - Credit: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing St

Asked to describe morale, the nurse said it was low – but added that it had been that way “during the whole pandemic”.

They asked to remain anonymous, as they were speaking without permission.

“We turn up to work and do our best,” they said, adding that “the verbal and physical abuse from patients and their families are back”.

Due to rising Covid levels, staff have had to impose restrictions on how many visitors patients can have.

“I’ve been name-called and shouted at for the past two weeks,” they said. “People are angry. We have Covid in the hospital and numbers are rising, but the general public don’t seem to care.

“Some even say that they’re double-vaccinated, so assume they’re protected – but they’re not.”

Demand

The Royal Free said it had not yet seen a “significant” increase in Covid-19 admissions, but the nurse said staff were nonetheless battling rising winter demand amid high levels of staff absence.

Intensive care doctors have cancelled their Christmas party, saying that "knowing what's coming", they felt they had "no choice".

The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town refunded NHS Royal Free doctors who were forced to cancel their Ch

Doctors from the Royal Free hospital trust cancelled their Christmas party at The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town, saying they felt they had 'no choice' - Credit: Andre Langlois

“A lot of staff are off sick with Covid, or isolating because someone in their household is positive,” the nurse said. 

“We’re busy with sick people that are non-Covid and with Covid. I don’t know how we’re going to cope at all. It’s so busy, with ambulances waiting a few hours to offload patients.

“They haven’t got to cancelling people’s leave, but we’re getting extra money for working extra shifts over the Christmas and new year period.”

Colleagues think the government should be imposing more restrictions, the nurse said, and even though it has failed to do so, staff will be staying away from family over Christmas.

A Royal Free spokesperson said: “We are incredibly grateful to our amazing staff for the commitment and compassion they have shown to each other and our patients over the past year.

The Royal Free Hospital

The Royal Free hospital trust said it was not yet seeing a 'significant' rise in Covid-19 patients - but London-wide, the number has doubled in a month and is rapidly climbing - Credit: Archant

“Like all hospital trusts across the NHS, we are putting our well-rehearsed plans in place as we prepare for the days and weeks ahead – although we are not currently seeing a significant rise in the number of Covid patients being admitted to our hospitals.

“We are all doing all we can to support our staff and would like to pay special tribute to those working over the festive season.”

For more, read:

Camden and Haringey hit England's top ten for Covid-19 spread

Sadiq Khan declares Omicron surge in London a 'major incident'

'We're under strain': GP warns of NHS struggles amid Omicron surge

Royal Free doctors cancel Christmas party - and thank pub for refund

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