STAFF at Southampton's main hospital are under intense pressure following the latest surge in Covid cases in the community.

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust is facing a sharp rise in the number of Covid patients, plus a spike in staff sickness caused by the virus.

Gail Byrne, the trust's chief nursing officer, said the hospital had more than 100 patients with Covid - the highest figure for several months.

She added that the sickness rate among employees was normally between three and four per cent but was currently running at about six per cent.

The hospital's A&E department has seen a substantial increase in its workload.

Mrs Byrne said staff used to regard 380 attendances a day as "challenging" but were presently seeing as many as 450 people in some 24-hour periods.

READ MORE: University Hospital Southampton 'busier than ever'

Other problems included patients who were well enough to be discharged but were waiting for a care home or care package.

Mrs Byrne was speaking against a grim backdrop.

Amanda Pritchard, head of NHS England, has warned that the next 24 months could be even tougher for the health service than the two years since the start of the pandemic.

NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and other NHS trusts, has described the problems facing the service as "big and pressing".

Last month a UHS spokesperson said staff were seeing unprecedented levels of demand, adding that the emergency department was "busier than ever".

READ MORE: University Hospital Southampton brings back masks after 19 bays close

Mrs Byrne said: "A lot of people are coming into the department themselves as opposed to being brought in by ambulance. Some of it is down to the pressure on GP services.

"We have also got more than 100 patients with Covid, although the number who are seriously ill is not as great as in the past.

"Previously patients were being admitted with something else and subsequently testing positive for Covid. This week people have been admitted purely with Covid.

"Some of the staff are going off sick with the virus, which creates its own problems. The current total is 345 out of 13,000 people employed by the Trust."

Last month the hospital reintroduced mask-wearing across the site, citing the spread of the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

Mrs Byrne said patients could help by supporting its decision as well as using other facilities such as minor injuries units, if appropriate.

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