A CRITICAL incident has been declared at Great Western Hospital as Omicron cases continue to soar in the town.

The hospital's chief executive Kevin McNamara warned patients are facing delays because of high demand for beds, with more than 180 staff off sick with Covid-19.

GWH is one of eight across the country to declare a critical incident, with one in 25 people nationwide now thought to be suffering with the virus.

EXPLAINED: What is a critical incident?

And Mr McNamara said things is likely to get worse this month.

He said: “Following a tough few days at GWH we have this morning declared an internal critical incident due to sustained high levels of demand (Covid and non-Covid) and availability of beds. This is causing delays to patients accessing services for which I am very sorry.

“We always knew that January would be a tough month for everyone and our modelling shows that it is likely to get tougher in the next few weeks.

“Our teams are working hard to provide care to those that need it and we are of course working closely with partners seeking support.

“Our Covid inpatient numbers are currently at 67 patients confirmed or suspected – an 81 per cent increase (from 37 on Christmas Eve).

“Huge thanks to everyone focused on supporting patients. Please remember staff support is available in the weeks ahead should colleagues need it at any time.”

A critical incident highlights that there is a significant problem, enables senior leaders to call for help and creates a formal interim internal governance structure to enable bosses to make difficult but necessary decisions at pace to keep at much of a hospital running as possible.

These might involve the cancellation of non-essential services and appointments, the redeployment of staff, the prioritisation of certain services and increased and concerted efforts to free up beds. 

A spokesperson from GWH NHS Foundation Trust said: “We currently have 67 patients being treated for Covid-19, of which five are in ICU. There are also lots of patients coming through our urgent and emergency care services, which means our hospital is extremely busy.

“These pressures are made more challenging as we have over 180 staff off sick with Covid-19 or isolating, and around the same number off sick with other conditions. This means there are around 400 staff off in total.

“We are working with partners to get patients home as soon as they are well enough, and would ask local families to support us by collecting your loved ones promptly and making sure their home is ready for their return.”

The staffing losses and Covid admissions have been compounded by a rising number of patients with seasonal illnesses like flu and other respiratory conditions.

“We have declared an internal critical incident," said the spokesperson. "This means we have alerted our partners to the pressures that we are under, and will receive support with discharging patients home as quickly as possible so we can free up bed capacity for those who need it,” the trust’s spokesperson added.

Plymouth Derriford, Morecambe Bay NHS Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are among the other trusts to declare a critical incident yesterday.

Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson told Sky News: "It is a sensible, planned thing to do to ensure that trust can carry on providing the services that it needs to provide, particularly the critical and essential services."

When asked about the problem of staff absences in the NHS and if the military could help, Health Secretary Sajid Javid noted the military is “helping already in vaccination centres across the country”.

He added: “The NHS is getting a huge amount of support from volunteers and others as well.

“But the NHS is also widely using an emergency list of workers that has been able to develop over the pandemic so far, and then call on clinicians and others that may have retired for example, to come back and help.

“Also the NHS Reserves Programme is something that the Government set up with the NHS."