THE Omicron variant has ramped up the pressure for the NHS in Bolton this winter.

Strain is being felt at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust as staff absences rise, as well as A&E handover delays and bed blocking.

New NHS England data shows out of 422 people arriving at the Royal Bolton Hospital’s A&E in the week to January 9, 144, or 34 per cent, waited more than 30 minutes before being handed over to A&E, with 90 waiting over an hour.

This was up from 28 per cent waiting over half an hour the week before.

And around 410 members of staff were absent with Covid or because they were self-isolating, making up 55 per cent of absences, up by five per cent from the previous week.

Rae Wheatcroft, the NHS trust’s chief operating officer, said: “Our aim is to always provide the safest level of care for our patients through the fantastic work of our staff, despite Covid-19 still greatly impacting on our services.

“We continue to work with our local and national partners to help deal with the pressures we face, but as the Omicron variant has proved extremely easy to pass on, please help reduce the strain on your NHS by washing your hands, wearing face masks when appropriate, following social distancing measures and, most importantly, getting your vaccine or booster.”

Bed blocking figures saw 129 eligible for discharge on January 9, but only 17 actually left the hospital, suggesting the trust is under pressure to discharge patients due to the stress of new Covid cases.

Mrs Wheatcroft said: “We have a wide range of initiatives in place to help improve our ambulance handover times, including the great work of our emergency department, our ward teams, our discharge team and admissions avoidance team. While hospitals are a great place to receive urgent care, it is often better for patients to recover at home in a familiar environment.”

Waiting lists also continue to rise, as figures show 1,701 more patients joined waiting lists at the Bolton trust in November, bringing the total to 29,020 at the end of the month.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said the NHS was unprepared for the pandemic and had no “spare capacity” when the Omicron variant hit.

He said: “Now patients are paying the price, waiting months and even years for treatment, often in pain, distress and discomfort.”

Prof Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said Omicron had increased the number of people in hospital with Covid, while drastically reducing the number of staff able to work.

He said: “Despite this, once again, NHS staff pulled out all the stops to keep services going for patients.