Test and trace rolled out in Weston to determine cause of hospital outbreak
The national track and trace programme is being extended to Weston-super-Mare to determine if the spike in Covid-19 infections started in the community or at the hospital.
Staff and patients are waiting for test results after Weston General Hospital closed to new admissions on Monday as case numbers remained “stubbornly high”.
Chief executive Robert Woolley reassured families that their loved ones were still being cared for and said the hospital will be deep-cleaned.
Wards will be reconfigured so infected and non-infected patients can be segregated but the hospital may not reopen for more than a week.
The overnight closure of the A&E meant there was a plan in place for diverting patients but they have not been sent to the pop-up Nightingale Hospital in Bristol.
Mr Woolley told the hospital trust board on Thursday: “We have in the course of this week retested all our staff. We have retested all inpatients.
“We haven’t got the results yet. We’re hoping for them in the next few days, then we will know exactly what we’re dealing with.
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“Once we have that information we can identify how quickly we can reopen the hospital to patients.”
Mr Woolley said media reports that 40 per cent of staff were infected were ‘alarmist’ and the said figure related to a small sample of staff in the most high-risk areas working with Covid-infected patients.
He added: “We haven’t seen a significant shift [in the staff absence rate] over the past few weeks that might have linked to an issue of infection spreading between staff.
“The national track and trace programme has been piloted in 11 areas.
“It’s also being introduced at Weston because all parties want to understand whether the source of the issues lies inside the hospital or in the community.”
The latest figures from North Somerset Council show that nearly 200 in every 100,000 people in North Somerset have Covid-19 – up from 151 two weeks ago. The number is above the South West rate of 135 case per 100,000 people.
“It’s our aim to reopen as soon as it’s safely possible,” said Mr Woolley. “All patients are receiving the best care.
“We will discharge patients in the normal way. If they are going to another care setting they will have to have two negative tests. They will be discharged with seven days of protective equipment.
“As we discharge patients we will be able to deep clean the hospital and identify what constraints there are.
“We’re looking to reconfigure the hospital to create segregation within a small hospital.
“I think it’s going to be a week, possibly longer.
“We didn’t have PPE shortages. Like all trusts we’ve been anxious about the level of stocks but we’ve never run out.”
The meeting heard that the Nightingale Hospital was not needed because there was spare capacity in Bristol and Taunton.
Chief operating officer Dr Mark Smith said there was a second reason: “The Nightingale isn’t an intensive care unit.
“It was provided for respiratory support. As we’ve learned more there’s a multi-organ failure process, with 25 to 30 per cent require renal therapy and rehabilitation.
“The unit wasn’t designed for that, it was designed for a specific purpose.”
North Somerset Council said: “The local community should be assured that all appropriate steps are being taken to identify any person from within the hospital setting who may be infectious, plus the risk from any contacts and those risk minimised.”
It has confirmed how track and trace will work: “A team of trained contact tracers will call staff individually and ask them to provide a range of information about where they have been and who they have met.
“This will complement the NHS Test and Trace programme which has launched nationally this morning.
“As a further means of support, North Somerset is accessing the new national contact tracing and advisory service which will also identify non-household contacts and trace those individuals for interview and testing where needed.
“This is a further control measure which has been initially piloted on the Isle of Wight and will now be employed as part of the local response.”
Residents on the Isle of Wight were the first to trial an app to report any symptoms they have and alert other people they had been in contact with.
A North Somerset Council spokesman said: “If we were to identify a particular location where a number of cases had been identified such as a school or nursery then the local authority can request urgent testing for people who need that diagnosis.
“This can be done through rapid access to a range of options, for example, the mobile testing unit, home testing kits or tests being taken to the location that requires it. This would be assessed on the needs of each case.
“We hope to receive some analysis by the end of this week but are dependent on the laboratory and data analysis process being completed by Public Health England.
“They are working with us and will make intelligence available as soon as possible.
“If there is any evidence of raised levels of community spread then we will not hesitate to escalate control measures to help prevent further infection and use specialist advice from Public Health England to help inform our actions.”
There is a major testing centre at Bristol Airport and a mobile testing unit in Locking Road car park in the centre of Weston.