ALMOST 300 frontline NHS workers at Barnsley Hospital have tested positive for coronavirus since the pandemic began in March, figures obtained by the Chronicle have revealed.

The statistics, which run from March 23 to October 27, show 287 staff returned positive tests, meaning more than one in 20 employees at the venue had Covid-19 at some point during the seven-month period.

A spokesperson from Barnsley Hospital said: “Since the start of the pandemic we have ensured that patient and staff safety is our priority.

“In addition to the use of personal protective equipment we have also been able to ensure rapid testing for staff who display symptoms of Covid-19.

“This has meant early identification of positive staff and has enabled the trust to ensure they self-isolate to protect patients and other staff.

“Up until October 27 we had a total of 287 staff, out of a total number of 4,500.

“The health and wellbeing of our staff is of utmost importance and we continue to support them with ongoing advice, counselling awareness and referral, and keeping them informed with updates across our internal communications channels.

“As part of our ongoing support we are also offering flu vaccinations to protect the health of our staff.”

The borough’s most recent positive rate of 548.9 cases per 100,000 is one of the highest in the country and, if it is not reduced, the hospital will be unable to cope according to health bosses.

Director of public health, Julia Burrows, said: “Here in Barnsley, as well as across South Yorkshire, cases are spreading across all age groups, with increasing hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and deaths.

“I want people to be aware that if they receive this message, it is genuine and that they need to take action to prevent transmitting this very serious virus throughout our communities.

“I’m concerned by the increase in people being hospitalised and the rise in number of people who are in intensive care with Covid-19. This is now extremely serious.

“Some of these are people who were infected several weeks ago when our rates were lower. I am very worried that when rates climb, it can only mean more people becoming seriously ill.

“Staff are working incredibly hard across all parts of the NHS, in GP practices, community, mental health and acute hospital services, to manage the changing situation and we need everyone to help us.

Following the rules does really make the difference and it’s our friends and family who will benefit in the long term.

“Everywhere you go socially, at work or school, act as if everyone you meet could be infected so you do everything you can to protect yourself and others.”

According to new NHS figures, 4.11 per cent of the hospital’s staff were recorded as absent due to illness in June - the latest month for which figures are available - and the rate spiked to 5.48 per cent in April.

Figures show 4,233 full-time equivalent days were lost in June due to absence at Barnsley Hospital, and 459 of these have been registered due to Covid-19 - meaning the virus accounted for 10.8 per cent of all absence in the month.

“This, combined with the significant numbers of staff who are isolating or unwell, mean the pressure on our NHS is steadily growing,” Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis said.

“NHS staff are working incredibly hard and making great sacrifices to keep us safe, as they have been for eight long months.

“There has been a lot of planning for a second wave, our hospitals are currently coping, and it’s hoped that the experience gained since March will help keep the death rate lower.

“But the situation remains precarious, and if cases continue to rise and hospitalisations increase, we risk our hospitals and the people who work in them being overwhelmed.

“The simple fact is that if we are going to protect our NHS this winter, we all have to do our bit.”