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Exclusive: Hospital workers forced to pay hefty bills after accommodation funds dry up despite second Covid wave

Government urged to continue to fund hotel beds for frontline staff

KEY NHS workers billeted in hotels since April to help hospitals deal with the Covid-19 pandemic may have to foot their own bills from Saturday, the Star can reveal.

Outsourced workers from St James’s hospital in Leeds contacted the Star today after they were told on Thursday that NHS England was no longer paying for their accommodation.

An operating-department practitioner (ODP), who was transferred to the hospital’s Covid ward in March, told the Star today – on condition of anonymity – that the change in circumstance had left him in a dire situation.

“We work long hours and the current situation is both extremely stressful and exhausting,” the ODP said.

“All my shifts at the hospital are 7.30am to 8pm and I'm averaging about 60 hours a week.

“With cases rising, it seems illogical to withdraw funding to accommodate key workers such as myself.

“Not only is this the worst possible time – it has been announced Leeds will go into Tier 3 as of midnight on Sunday – but now I’m in a position where I’m either forced to commute a long distance to work and expose my loved ones to risk of transmission, or pay for my own accommodation.”

In a letter from NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens in March, NHS trust bosses were told that “staff affected by [Public Health England’s] 14-day household isolation policy should [...] be offered the alternative option of staying in NHS-reimbursed hotel accommodation while they continue to work.”

However, in response to the Star’s questions about the apparent funding cut, an NHS spokesperson said: “NHS trusts have their own systems in place to book accommodation – each organisation will be able to support their staff in line with local need.”

John Puntis, co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, questioned NHS England's response.

“Something has changed. NHS England thought it was right in March. Why is the the onus on trusts to provide accommodation now?

“I wouldn’t have thought the reasons why NHS England implemented this system back in March have gone away.

“Cancelling the policy now seems like a daft thing to do. In fact, the numbers of Covid patients in Leeds are higher now than they were in April.

“There are already a lot of people unable to work because they’re off sick or self-isolating waiting for a test. To start making it more difficult for NHS staff to come to work now will only reduce the number of staff available.”

Unison Yorkshire & Humberside head of health Trevor Johnston said: “With Leeds and West Yorkshire in Tier 3, and hospital admissions at a critical point, many NHS workers will have no option but to stay locally. 
 
“The government must continue to fund hotel beds for staff to deal with the situation.”

Meanwhile, NHS data uncovered by Sky News today showed that the number of Covid-19 cases in Leeds care homes this week (200) was considerably higher than the 160 active cases recorded in May.

The data also showed that cases are growing much faster than during the first wave.

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