Covid cases up again, deaths very low, but ‘pingdemic’ causing staff chaos 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock with Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock with Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly and CEO Caroline Walker this summer at Hinchingbrooke Hospital. - Credit: Ryan Fuller

A ‘pingdemic’ is causing a staffing crisis and rising Covid-19 admissions adding to the increased pressure on local hospitals. 

The North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, who run Peterborough City Hospital and Hinchingbrooke, says large number of workers have been ‘pinged’ on their NHS Covid app and required to self-isolate. 

And although Covid deaths are very low, the number of new cases is on the increase.  

CEO Caroline Walker told a board meeting on Tuesday that the present situation of rising levels of Covid was the opposite of a month ago.  

“Our staff are once more under significant pressure as Covid levels rise,” she said, 

“Even though this was forecast and prepared for, the challenges we are now facing are impacting on everything we do. 

“We now have complete wards of Covid patients again, instead of just a few isolation-rooms. 

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“This time round the rise in numbers has been combined with our trying to get our waiting list activity reduced.” 

She said: “Our waiting list grew throughout Covid and while the pandemic took priority of course, we still want to reduce our waiting list as soon as possible and as much as possible. 

“July and August are peak times for our staff to take leave through vacations, and this is quite normal. 

“But we now find ourselves in the situation where those staff who are not on vacation are away from work having to self-isolate because they have been ‘pinged’ on their Covid-app. 

“In fact, we’ve suffered something of a ‘pingdemic’ over the past few weeks with larger numbers than expected are away from work. 

“This in turn has had the knock-on effect that we cannot provide the services we would want to, particularly in maternity.” 

Ms Walker said: “Sadly, as a result of this, for the time being we’ve suspended some of the maternity services we would normally expect to provide, including home-births, thereby keeping our midwives and birthing staff on the main PCH site for safety. 

“This is not something unique to Peterborough by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, this is a county-wide and nationwide issue, and we will just have to find other ways to work through the problem.” 

Louise Tibbert, Chief People Officer, added: “The impact on our workforce has been a bit of a latent-impact, inasmuch as we are providing mental health support alongside staff care to bring them back into meaningful work. 

“It has been a very long eighteen months, and we’re very aware of the stress and fatigue-levels that our staff are under and we want to do everything that we can to help them. 

“Absence, in all its forms, including through leave and vacations has been factored into our works schedules as we always do. 

“But as Caroline has already pointed out, we have been double-whammied by the ‘pingdemic’ which has affected so many of our staff that would normally be expected to be on duty at this time. 

“We are continuing to support a small number of ‘shielders’ back to work. 

“And with the ‘pingdemic’, we’re seeing increasing numbers of frustrated staff who want to come back to work but feel compelled to observe Covid rules and continue to self-isolate, even if they show no signs of the contagion. 

“What we’re doing now is having daily conversations with them about the nature of the ‘ping’, the nature of their isolation and whether a close family member is involved. 

“Every morning at 8am we have a meeting of the ‘Ping Panel’. 

“They review the individual and then take a health and safety assessment as to whether or not people can come back to work, and what mitigations we can put in place to get them back to work.” 

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trust, which runs Peterborough City, Hinchingbrooke and Stamford and Rutland Hospitals, has taken the decision to hold virtual public board meetings to ensure government guidance and social distancing measures are observed.