A member of staff at Castle Hill Hospital has spoken out about the "chronic under staffing" at the virus lab - with Covid-19 tests being prioritised to the detriment of other tests for blood born viruses, anti-natal and sexual health screening.

The person, who did not want to be named, disclosed their concerns to Hull Live about the current situation at the hospital and the break down in mental health of workers in the lab.

It was also alleged by the staff member that not enough senior members work in the pathology department, leaving junior members of the team alone with a non-virology trained senior during annual leave.

They said: "The staff and public need to be aware of the chronic under staffing of the virus lab at Castle Hill Hospital, where Covid-19 testing is done for staff, patients and the wider community.

"Since the start of the pandemic, the virus staff as all others have has massive changes to their working conditions.

Castle Hill Hospital
Castle Hill Hospital

"From Monday to Friday 9am to 4.30pm lab, to seven days a week, sometimes working shifts between 8am to 8pm, with the addition of only three extra non-virology staff.

"With the tragic death of a member of staff and the increase in levels of sickness, they are still being asked to provide all routine testing, but are prioritising Covid-19 testing to the detriment of routine tests of blood born viruses, anti-natal screening and sexual health screening".

The staff member goes on to say that six months in to the pandemic, staff numbers have not improved.

It is alleged that even though there are new recruits, they must always be supervised and on some days the lab is running on three trained biomedical scientists and two support workers, covering two shifts with one member of staff often working after 4.30pm on their own.

The staff member also claims that rotas are not released in advance of a couple of weeks.

They said: "Currently both the senior biomedical staff have been allowed annual leave together, leaving the lab to be run by a non-virology trained senior, junior staff and support workers.

"With a constant barrage of phone calls and enquiries as to why especially Covid test results are not forthcoming, the staff are extremely under appreciated with little or no support or understanding from all levels of management.

"Mental and physical health is becoming a real challenge for some of the staff."

It comes as sick people with Covid-19 symptoms across Hull and members of their families are desperate for tests - but cannot access them.

Testing centres are also standing empty, with reports of people being tuned away because they did not have slots.

Hull Live has been inundated with anxious people telling us they simply cannot book a test.

Many told us no home testing kits were available to order online either, with the Gov.uk website saying there were either no walk-through or drive-through slots, or home testing kits, available.

Professor Russell Patmore, Medical Director for Clinical Support Services at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, admitted there had been staffing issues due to long-term sickness but there has been further recruitment.

Professor Russell Patmore
Professor Russell Patmore

He said: “The Virology service has been one of our most vital services during the pandemic. I would like to acknowledge the incredible efforts of everyone who works as part of that team as well as publicly state how much we value their dedication and professionalism, in such difficult circumstances.

“It is true that we have experienced some staffing issues in the service in part due to long-term sickness absence.

"However we have recently successfully recruited to some posts and we have additional support from our Microbiology team in place at present. The new recruits will need extra supervision initially but we never leave trainees or unqualified staff on their own.

"We are currently advertising for additional scientists as well as securing new locum and bank staff."

Prof Patmore says the pandemic has resulted in a change of working.

He said: “The nature of the pandemic has meant that staff have had to get used to changes to rotas at short notice, including short notice weekend working as well as late nights.

"But we have rotas in place and the virology lab is managed by our Chief Biomedical Scientist with support from other expert microbiologists.

“During the pandemic it has been essential for us to prioritise Covid testing, as I imagine most people would expect. At its peak we had very little other testing to focus upon.

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"With routine activity having resumed we are conducting other testing again and this takes place alongside the Covid testing according to clinical urgency.

"We have not stopped other tests but clearly we have a much bigger overall workload and that means turnaround times are sometimes longer than they used to be. The safety of each individual patient is, as always, our primary concern.

“We accept that this has been a very difficult and exhausting time for NHS staff and we will continue to do everything we can to support the wellbeing of services and teams in every way possible.”