STAFF at East Lancashire’s hospitals have been praised for their outstanding courage and sacrifice after it was revealed nearly 1,400 contracted coronavirus last year.

Blackburn MP Kate Hollern hailed the staff as ‘heroic’ while Nigel Evans, Ribble Valley MP, said the high numbers highlighted ‘how exposed health professionals were during this crisis’.

Data obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request shows 999 frontline workers were diagnosed with the virus between January 2020 and December 2020.

Another 388 members of staff from across the trust tested positive for Covid-19 ­- a total of 1,387 people out of a workforce of about 9,000.

That is equivalent to more than one in six people across five sites, Royal Blackburn Hospital, Burnley General Hospital, Clitheroe Community Hospital, Pendle Community Hospital and Accrington Victoria.

Health bosses said staff were moved within departments to cover absences due to coronavirus.

Kevin McGee, joint chief executive of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, praised his workers’ flexibility, hard work and dedication throughout the pandemic which has so far claimed the lives of 995 patients in East Lancashire’s hospitals.

He said: “As one of the largest employers in this area with a high percentage of colleagues also living in East Lancashire, we knew the level of staff sickness absence due to Covid-19 would rise and fall in line with the rate of community infections – which in East Lancashire have been consistently high throughout the pandemic.

“The safety of our patients will always be a priority and I’d like to thank each and every member of staff who has followed guidance and acted responsibly in line with measures and restrictions in place to reduce the spread of infection if they showed symptoms or received a positive test result.

“Our staff have shown great flexibility during this pandemic and I am extremely grateful to them for their hard work and dedication, while also managing their own lives. Our staffing teams have also been working extra hard to ensure that we were able to maintain safe staffing levels and to find last-minute cover at times to make sure those who needed our care were able to receive it.

“We have robust infection prevention and control policies and procedures in place, such as cleaning regimes and the use of appropriate PPE. These have been extremely successful in helping us avoid hospital-acquired infections and this has been recognised by NHS England regionally during a number of visits to our hospitals. I’m really proud of the way we have tackled this as a team.”

Figures also reveal the hardest-hit time periods ­were April 2020, when 267 members of staff had symptoms, and October, with 192.

Kate Hollern MP said: “NHS staff at East Lancashire Hospital Trust have been heroic throughout this pandemic, going above and beyond to support our communities.”

She added: “I’d personally like to thank East Lancs and their staff for everything they’re doing. The government needs to do more to recognise their efforts.”

MP Mr Evans said: “These are incredibly high numbers and demonstrate quite clearly how exposed our health professionals were during this crisis.

“I would pay tribute to each and every one of them who put themselves forward during a dangerous situation like no other to care for people and they deserved our applause during the pandemic and, from the figures, you can see the price they have paid by getting the disease,” he added.

Sara Britcliffe, MP for Hyndburn, said: “Our frontline workers have been at the heart of the response to the pandemic working night and day to save lives and have sacrificed so much.

“I want to personally thank them for all their efforts to protect my community and the rest of Lancashire,” she added.

Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson said: “I think these figures speak volumes of the tremendous dedication of the NHS staff who worked tirelessly in the pandemic and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for what they have done.”

Unison North West regional organiser Rebecca Lumberg said: “We are very concerned that so many East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust workers have contracted the virus in the last year, as these figures show.

“At local level, our representatives have worked closely with the NHS Trust to ensure effective health and safety and infection control measures are introduced in wards and departments along with ensuring that staff welfare is considered at every stage,” she added.