Hospital services

Omicron surge deeply cuts services at Palmerston North Hospital

Work begins on improvements to Palmerston North Hospital.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

Work begins on improvements to Palmerston North Hospital.

Planned surgeries, including those for cancer patients, are postponed at Palmerston North Hospital as Covid-19 decimates staffing levels.

More than 10% of hospital staff, mostly nurses, were off duty this week because they had Covid-19, were self-isolating as household contacts or caring for children or limbs family infected with the virus.

The MidCentral District Health Board’s director of operations for acute and elective specialty services, Lyn Horgan, said more than 100 staff members were absent Thursday alone.

“We recognize the distress and anxiety that any postponement of planned surgery, including cancer surgery, will cause for our patients and their whānau.

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“We are deeply saddened to be in a position where we have to postpone surgeries due to the impact of Covid-19.”

Horgan did not say how many scheduled surgeries have been postponed since Omicron began affecting hospital admissions and staffing.

Omicron’s push showed few signs of slowing in the MidCentral Health District, with the Department of Health reporting an additional 814 new cases on Friday.

The senior officer in charge of Covid-19, Deborah Davies, said staff were saddened to report another person had died, bringing the total number of deaths in the district to four.

There were 21 people hospitalized with Covid-19, including one in intensive care.

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NRHCC Clinical Director Dr Andrew Old speaks to the media about Covid-19 and winter.

There are currently 5,592 active cases in the district. The majority, 2942, are in Palmerston North. There are 856 in Horowhenua, 830 in Manawatū, 714 in Tararua and 250 in Ōtaki.

Horgan said with reduced staffing, the hospital was working to prioritize those most in need of immediate care.

“We do not underestimate the impact this has on our patients and their whānau. Our priority is to keep patients informed and to do what we can to resume scheduled care as soon as possible.

“We understand this is a difficult time for whānau and our teams appreciate the community support as we work to protect those most at risk from Omicron.”

Horgan said with so many staff absent, those who were at work were being redeployed around the hospital to areas where they were most needed.

“Extensive training has been put in place for all staff [both those who are regulated and unregulated] so that we can keep clinical areas safe at all times.

To ensure the safety of vulnerable inpatients, visits had been halted across several wards – Star 1, Star 2, Star 4 and the Elderly Acute Assessment and Liaison Unit (Opal).

The restrictions would be reviewed on Wednesday April 6.

The visitation ban did not apply to the Mahi Tahi care partner program. Kaimanaaki caregivers staying with a patient were required to take a RAT test before entering the ward.

Horgan said there were no national public health requirements for staff surveillance testing in hospitals, and introducing routine RATs for staff would not be a valid strategy to reduce risk. transmission of Covid-19 in the hospital at this stage of the epidemic.

All forward-facing staff wore N95 masks, so the risk of an undetected asymptomatic staff case of Covid-19 causing infection in patients was low.

“Our staff all have access to free RATs as critical workers if they are symptomatic or household contacts.”

Friday was the last day people could collect RAT tests from CET Arena.

From Saturday, pre-ordered RAT kits can be picked up at 575 Main Street, Palmerston North. To pre-order a RATs test, visit https://bit.ly/RequestRATs