Staff absences are running at between 6% and 9% in Suffolk hospitals, but health chiefs are confident they will get through the Covid winter pressures.

The Omicron variant threatens disruption but the James Paget, West Suffolk and Ipswich hospitals are coping well.

Dr Ed Garratt, chief executive of Ipswich and East Suffolk, West Suffolk and North East Essex clinical commissioning groups told Suffolk’s Local Outbreak Engagement Board meeting of health, police and council leaders, he was confident the health system could make it through the difficult winter pressures period.

He said: “Our NHS and social care system is standing up well under a lot of pressure.

“The first week of January is always the most pressurised week, and we have got Omicron on top of that, but we are standing up well.

“We are not on the highest risk rating – we feel confident we can get through this difficult period.

“For Omicron, yes there is a rise of cases in hospitals and also in care homes. The biggest issue is staffing.

“The sickness rate in our hospitals – in James Paget, West Suffolk and Ipswich is between about 6% and 9%, particularly hitting some of the nursing workforce.

“Our biggest risk at the moment is staff sickness and increasingly we are looking at how we can provide mutual aid in Suffolk and make sure we can keep the show on the road.

“Things change very quickly but I think we are reaching a plateau and that we have got good plans to see us through the next few weeks.”

Staff absences as a result of having to isolate have been a concern across public sector services as the more infectious Omicron variant spreads in the community.

Meanwhile, Norfolk and Waveney health and care system this week declared a critical incident, which is where the service acknowledges that it cannot fulfil services fully, while West Suffolk Hospital has declared an internal critical incident.

Both have come as a result of increased staff sickness coupled with the already high demand on services during the winter peak.

Trusts have asked patients with less severe needs to be understanding if services take longer, while staff across the trusts have been praised for their efforts over the tricky winter so far.