Hospitals in Greater Manchester have called for urgent military support as the region’s NHS creaks under pressure from the Omicron variant.
Soldiers could be asked to carry out basic care needs, such as hydration and nutrition, for patients in so-called super-surge beds, as well as ancillary support including porter work, admin tasks and cleaning.
It comes as the rising demand for hospitals in the region surpasses last year’s peak, with staff absences across all areas on the increase too.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has seen mini-Nightingale-style wards open at a number of NHS hospitals in Greater Manchester, with the Royal Oldham understood to be facing significant pressure.
Chris Brookes, acute lead for Greater Manchester and an A&E consultant at Salford Royal, told the Manchester Evening News (MEN) that the system has been holding together so far, but “it would be wrong for me to say it’s not more intense a pressure, because it is”.
He added: “The word I’d use is uncomfortable. When bed occupancy is in the low- to mid-90%, that is an uncomfortable place.”
Senior NHS bosses are now in urgent talks with the military about the forces providing extra support across the region’s hospitals, as it has done in other parts of the country already.
Brookes said: “Where there has been much active conversation with the military is with respect to the support they can give to our ancillary services.
“Our portering staff are not immune from all of this, our cleaning staff are not immune to all of it, our admin staff, all those colleagues who are performing incredibly important functions.
“That’s the place the military are looking to be able to support us, or where they may have skills in terms of pharmacy and pharmacy technicians.
“So that’s where conversations are happening with the military and I think that’s a good thing, to minimise the impact of staffing absence.”
Non-urgent surgery has been cancelled almost across the board to help make staff available to assist with rising Covid cases being admitted into hospital wards.
A senior clinician observed that the weekend of the New Year and the first week of January were “particularly tough” but that staff had been prepared.
They told the MEN: “I think the NHS has responded incredibly well, but we were bracing ourselves for this … we’ve not been overwhelmed but, yet again, we’ve had to ask them to go above and beyond.”
The armed forces were deployed earlier this month to help hospitals in London deal with a surge in Covid patients and the number of staff off sick and unable to work.
Of the 200 military personnel involved, 40 were doctors, while the other 160 personnel, who have no medical training, were deployed to check in patients, ensure stocks are maintained and “conduct basic checks”, according to the Ministry of Defence.
They are expected to support the NHS in the capital until the end of the month.