Six staff who reported coronavirus symptoms after car-sharing without masks are among hundreds off work at an NHS hospital trust due to COVID-19.
The University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust (UHNM) said it had reminded staff of the importance of face coverings after it emerged that six staff were sent home after reporting symptoms after car-sharing without masks.
The trust has said that 583 – or 5% – of its 11,500 staff were currently off work for coronavirus-related reasons, including those who have tested positive and those self-isolating after being in contact with someone with the disease.
In total 987 members of staff at the trust, which runs The Royal Stoke University Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, and Stafford’s County Hospital, were off sick as of 3 November.
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The Guardian reported that the breach of rules on masks came to light after an email to staff was sent by trust medical director John Oxtoby on 28 October.
In a statement to the PA news agency, Oxtoby said: “Our staff, like those in the NHS across the country, have been working incredibly hard with no real respite between the first wave of the pandemic, the recovery of services and now the second surge of COVID-19.
“We all obviously have a responsibility to observe national guidance and our staff are regularly kept up to date with the latest advice as it becomes available.
“Wearing a face mask and eye protection alongside hand washing and social distancing are all important measures of reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our hospitals and to keep our patients and communities safe.
“The pandemic has asked a lot of us all and it is important to continue to remind our staff to look after themselves and each other.”
Government guidance tells people to avoid car-sharing with people who aren’t in their social bubble or household. It also urges people to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus by wearing face coverings.
The news comes as the head of the NHS said there are “22 hospitals’ worth” of coronavirus patients in hospitals in England.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had been a “very substantial” increase in COVID-19 admissions in October.
“We began early September with under 500 coronavirus patients in hospitals,” he said.
“By the beginning of October that had become 2,000. As of today that is just under 11,000.
“So, put another way, we’ve got 22 hospitals’ worth of coronavirus patients across England.
“And indeed, even since Saturday, when the prime minister gave his press conference, we filled another two hospitals full of severely ill coronavirus patients.”
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