Around 1,800 healthcare staff in Northern Ireland are currently off work due to Covid 19, MLAs have been told.
Paul Cavanagh, the interim director of planning and commissioning with Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Board, said the staffing shortages were having an impact on the ability of the health service to cope with increasing numbers of Covid-19 inpatients.
Mr Cavanagh told the Assembly’s Health Committee that while some of the 1,800 staff had been infected with Covid-19 the “vast majority” were isolating after being identified as a close contact of someone else with the virus.
He said officials were examining initiatives, through testing regimes, to allow doubly vaccinated staff to continue to work despite being classed as a close contact.
The senior official said the current wave of Covid had arrived two weeks earlier than expected so the health service was also having to operate at a time when a lot of staff had taken annual leave.
“Some 1,800 staff are currently off due to Covid,” Mr Cavanagh told the committee.
“Some of them are infected but the vast majority of them are actually isolating due to contact with others who have tested positive.
“So it’s a large number of staff that are currently unavailable to us and obviously we’re looking at where the opportunities are for those double-vaccinated staff, the majority of whom are double-vaccinated of course, how we can actually see how we can maintain them in work despite coming into contact with someone who has been infected.”
Mr Cavanagh said around 120 surgeries planned for this week in Northern Ireland had been cancelled due to the need to free up staff to cope with increasing Covid-19 admissions.
He said most of the surgeries were orthopaedic but he said some were cancer operations.
“I’m very disappointed and I really am sorry that we haven’t been able to maintain those surgeries,” he said.
Mr Cavanagh said of the 34 people in ICU with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, two thirds were unvaccinated.
He added: “Also we know that some of those patients are a lot younger than they would have been in previous waves. So on that basis it’s a very different demographic that we’re looking at as well.”