This article was written by Vanessa Chalmers and James Fielding for The Mail Online. It can be found here.
Forty per cent of staff at a hospital in Weston-super-Mare closed to new admissions because of a spike in Covid-19 patients have symptoms of the infection, it has been claimed.
A memo leaked to a local newspaper revealed Weston General Hospital, which has around 2,000 staff, warned of a high rate of coronavirus cases among medics.
The trust that runs the hospital has yet to deny the claims, and admitted last night there is an ’emerging picture’ of staff with no symptoms testing positive for Covid-19.
These silent carriers of the virus can unknowingly spread the virus to other people, with scientists previously finding up to half of cases are caused by asymptomatic spread.
The hospital suddenly stopped accepting new admissions on Monday, including to A&E, due to a ‘high number of Covid-19 patients’.
But causes of the outbreak have been a mystery, with locals blaming tourists crowding the beaches over the past two weeks.
Weston General Hospital initially said it was closing its doors on Monday morning due to a flare in Covid-19 patients. Bosses said there was a ‘high number of Covid-19 patients’.
Somerset Live claims it saw a message reportedly sent to NHS staff in the South West region on Sunday, May 24.
The message, shared by an unnamed NHS worker, said testing of staff at Weston General, including workers without any symptoms, has revealed ’40 per cent as COVID-19 positive’.
And the newspaper claimed the leaked memo, which the NHS trust has yet to deny is false, said more than 64 patients have tested positive in the hospital, up from 30 patients at the beginning of last week.
An update from University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, revealed more on Tuesday evening.
Trust medical director Dr William Oldfield said they are in the process of testing all staff in clinical areas at the hospital who may have had some patient contact.
‘There is an emerging picture of asymptomatic staff testing positive for the virus,’ he said.
Dr Oldfield said members of staff who have tested positive have self-isolated in line with national guidance.
He said there are ‘appropriate levels’ of personal protective equipment (PPE) available and added that ‘there have been significant efforts to minimise unnecessary staff movements across the hospital’.
People who are infected with COVID-19 but show no symptoms could make up a significant proportion of COVID cases, research suggests.
One study of staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital swabbed 1,000 NHS workers who were deemed fit to work, and found three per cent had COVID-19.
If applied to the 500,000 NHS frontline workers across Britain, the data suggests 15,000 may have tested positive for the killer infection in April, when the study was conducted.
Experts have called for NHS workers to be screened regularly in order to identify anyone carrying the virus without knowing.
Professor Charles Swanton, who works at the Francis Crick Institute, underlined the importance of screening healthcare workers for COVID-19 in an article published in the Lancet on April 15.
He said: ‘Increased testing capacity will enable all staff who are self-isolating unnecessarily to bolster a depleted workforce. Asymptomatic health care workers (HCWs) are an underappreciated potential source of infection and worthy of testing.’
Dr Oldfield said in the statement yesterday: ‘Testing for symptomatic staff and household contacts has been offered across the trust since the beginning of April.’
He confirmed there were ‘currently a high number of patients with coronavirus in the hospital’, who were being ‘appropriately segregated’, but did not clarify if this was the sole reason the hospital had shut.
Local MP, John Penrose, said the hospital was having a ‘deep clean’ after speaking to health chiefs.
He told MailOnline: ‘As I hope everyone would expect, I’ve been meeting local health chiefs to get to the bottom of this.
‘They say the hospital isn’t full and there are enough spare beds, but they’re worried about cross-infecting non-covid patients, so they want to stop new arrivals until they’ve deep-cleaned it and checked all the staff too.
‘They’re running tests which they hope will reveal the truth of it, so we should know more once the results come in.’