Easter is traditionally a difficult time to discharge patients, and this year’s four-day holiday period is a concern for hospital management, the borough council’s scrutiny health and social care review group heard.
The impact on staffing filters down to community services and nursing homes, according to chief executive of the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust David Carter.
During an update report on Covid locally, Labour South councillor David Agbley inquired whether hospitalisation is going up and if staffing levels are affected at the hospital.
Mr Carter replied: “There are just over 100 in-patients with Covid. For us it’s looking at the patients within our critical care facilities because that’s where we were concerned about being overwhelmed in the early days of pandemic.
“We’ve got three currently at the Luton and Dunstable. Our critical care is full, but not necessarily with Covid patients.
“It’s a concern we’ve 100 patients in hospital, and the consequences within the system and in society causing us problems.
“A large number of staff are off with Covid.
“We’ve extreme emergency pressures on our hospital because of a range of factors. We’re unable to discharge patients as before because the community services and nursing homes are struggling with Covid absence.
“Our number one concern is the amount of pressures we face. We’ve all seen some of the worrying statistics about ambulance delays and handovers across the east of England, the country and locally.
“The system is under extreme stress because of the effect Covid is having on the way it works.
“We’re going into a four-day Easter break when normally we struggle to discharge patients. This weekend could be much more difficult than pre-Covid.”
Councillor Agbley wondered if there are enough staff in an emergency to meet the requirements of patients, asking: “How safe is the hospital now?”
Mr Carter said: “We’re struggling with the number of staff absent, which is higher than we’d expect.
“But we run a safe hospital. Everything we do is to mitigate the pressures we face. The ambulance service’s struggle to offload is a consequence of the pressures on the system.
“Luton and Dunstable, and Bedford Hospital have the best handovers in the region.”
Director of public health Sally Cartwright said: “As of today our case rate is 288 per 100,000. But because testing has fallen those rates aren’t an accurate reflection of the prevalence in the population anymore.
“Our rates are decreasing in Luton and we’re well below the England and east of England average.
“The main area of action now is around the vaccination programme. We’re working to increase uptake. Our uptake remains low compared to other areas in the UK.”
Ms Cartwright has been reviewing the local outbreak management plan, adding: “We’re reducing some of our meetings. If there’s a new variant and should things escalate again, there’s the flexibility to step back up as needed.
“We still have a clear role in care homes and the management of outbreaks through measures in those settings because of the vulnerability of that population group.”