GHA implements contingency plans as 45 healthcare workers test positive for Covid-19
The GHA is implementing contingency plans to address the impact of Covid-19 on staffing after 45 healthcare workers across numerous departments tested positive in recent days.
The figure, disclosed by the GHA in response to Chronicle questions, offers just a partial snapshot of the impact of Covid-19 on the organisation, with additional members of staff forced to self-isolate due to contact with positive cases.
For now, the pressure on staff resources comes at a time when the number of hospitalised cases of Covid-19 remains low. On Thursday, there was just one person in the critical care unit at St Bernard’s Hospital and none on the Covid-19 ward.
The Omicron variant, while highly infectious, appears to cause milder symptoms particularly for vaccinated people, underscoring the Gibraltar Government’s message for people to take up the offer of the booster jab as the best way to protect themselves and their loved ones.
But the data illustrates the stark challenge faced by healthcare managers during the holiday period in the run-up to the new year.
With a steady number of new cases detected in the community each day, hospital managers are working to ensure the GHA can respond if the need arises.
The concern is that a spike in hospitalisations, coupled to staff shortages, could place serious, sudden pressure on healthcare services.
The GHA data shows staff members – including doctors, nurses and administrative staff – have tested positive in 21 departments across the service, ranging from the medical team and ICU to the ambulance service, the 111 service, the drive-through test centre and even the hospital kitchen.
The worst-hit department is the Maternity Ward, where there are seven positive cases in the nursing and midwifery team, according to the GHA.
“The GHA is implementing measures based on contingency plans that were in fact first visited at the start of the pandemic and then adapted and changed over the last almost two years,” a spokesman for the GHA told the Chronicle.
“The issue is always that a staff member testing positive cannot be predicted and as such staffing changes must be reactive.”
“Additionally sourcing extra staff from the UK for example is very difficult at the moment due to travel restrictions and a shortage of clinical staff across many countries.”
“Suffice to say that GHA staff have been incredibly flexible and dedicated when it comes to covering unexpectedly for colleagues, and we had already anticipated a winter surge in demand on health services generally, as we do every year, with some extra locum staff who are mitigating the loss of staff testing positive.”
The hospital raised its alert status to Amber two weeks ago and has implemented strict testing protocols to ensure both staff and visitors are routinely screened to ensure early detection of any asymptomatic cases.
But the increased alert status means a reduction in routine surgeries and interventions to prevent otherwise healthy people from potentially bringing the Covid-19 virus into the hospital, where many patients are vulnerable during treatment and recovery.
“Additionally, this means generally less patients in some of the hospital settings so mitigating any staff shortages due to staff testing positive,” the spokesman said.
“However apart from this proactive measure, services overall have not been affected so far.”
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was quizzed on this issue during a press conference last week ahead of the Christmas break.
“Those are precisely the issues that you have to keep an eye on,” he told reporters.
“The level of infectivity is affecting not just those who require the care of the GHA, but the GHA’s ability to provide that care, not only because the GHA may be flooded by people who require [medical] attention, but because the GHA’s own staff may be unable to provide that care.”
“When the time comes, if it becomes necessary, we will start to operate different teams to try and create bubbles so that if one team goes down, another team will be available.”
“We’re not yet at the tipping point when that is required.”
“We’re also changing the isolation requirements, the requirements as to testing, so that people can continue to operate in a particular field by testing themselves and making sure that they are not infectious and they can go to work.”
On Thursday, the number of active cases in Gibraltar fell by 35 to 557, as 144 people were classed as having recovered from the virus.
But the latest Covid-19 update showed too that there were 112 new confirmed cases of the virus.
Of the new cases, 77 were resident in Gibraltar and 16 were close contacts of an existing active case.
Some 796 people are in self-isolation and another 146 test results are pending.