Hospitals losing 1,000 staff a day to sickness as Omicron infections soar across UK


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Britain has had record daily Covid cases for several days in a row now, with three quarters of a million people testing positive in the last week alone

Omicron has sent Covid infection rates soaring around the country

Hospital bosses are desperately battling to fill widening staffing gaps on wards as thousands of doctors and nurses are hit by Covid, it has emerged.

London is the worst casualty with St Barts Trust, the biggest in the country, saying absence is up from 597 to 864 in seven days because of staff going down with the virus or self-isolating.

And hospitals throughout Britain continue to report similar worrying rises.

Official NHS figures show England’s Covid-related absences rose 12,240 to 18,829 between December 12 and 19 – around a thousand a day.

All this is happening as Omicron cases keep soaring throughout the capital and elsewhere.

Sage scientists warn of a looming “large wave” of hospital admissions as the variant moves from younger to older age groups due to families mixing over Christmas.

The booster programme has been rolled out at a faster rate as a result
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One intensive care consultant at a leading London hospital warned Omicron was causing havoc despite its alleged mildness.

Although most sufferers do not end up in ICU, they clog an already overfilled system.

The consultant, who did not want to be named, warned: “Many need oxygen
continuously through a mask.

“People should know being admitted to hospital with Omicron means they seriously ill. Some have reached intensive care.

“Even being on a general ward means typically two weeks in hospital. So anyone who thinks it’s not worth getting vaccinated, get jabbed because you could be among them.

“These people are almost exclusively unvaccinated and in the younger age groups.

The number of people hospitalised with Covid has also increased in the last week
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“And even as we are treating them with oxygen, some of them are in denial over the need for vaccination. Everyone is apprehensive about the New Year and when the peak will come and how many will end up in ICU.

“And the level of infection among staff is going up – so the bigger threat could be from the sheer lack of staff going off sick with the virus or having to isolate.”

Alistair Chesser, medical director of the St Barts NHS Trust, has had sickness absence soar from 597 to 864 in seven days across five
hospitals covering East London – St Bartholomew’s, Royal London, Mile End, Whipps Cross and Newham.

The Trust had 187 patients with Covid on Saturday, 31 of them in critical care beds. Mr Chesser said: “We have plans in place to redeploy staff in the coming weeks should we need to.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid hasn’t ruled out tougher restrictions after Christmas
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Imperial College hospital chief Professor Tim Orchard said staff absences were so high that “we are having to ask some to move temporarily to support especially challenged areas.”

In Yorkshire, sickness among staff at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals increased from 1,409 to 1,699 over seven days. And bosses fear worse is to come.

The Trust’s Julie Phelan said: “We are lagging about 10 days behind London. We are planning and we are ready.”

Absence among the 11,000 staff at East Suffolk and North Essex hospitals in Ipswich and Colchester is up 6%. West Hertfordshire hospitals in Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead is down 25 doctors and 38 nurses.

Preliminary findings by the UK Health Security Agency show that 31%-45% of Omicron sufferers are less likely to attend A&E and 50%-70% are less likely to go into hospital than those with the Delta variant.

But Agency boss Dr Jenny Harries warned Omicron was still the most serious threat the UK has faced since the beginning of the pandemic. She told the BBC : “We have very high rates of individuals off sick.

“That’s having an impact on the workforce, so this is not simply about hospitalisation rates.”

SAGE advisers are expecting infection rates to start doubling every two to three days after Christmas.

One in 35 of us now has Covid, rising to one in 20 in London. Omicron is now the dominant strain of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, there were claims yesterday that Omicron was not the whole problem when it comes to NHS absences.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said the crisis had been worsened by the Tories failing to plug 100,000 NHS staff shortages even before the pandemic.

He added: “It’s not just that the Tories didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining. They dismantled the roof and removed the floorboards.”

Patricia Marquis of the Royal College of Nursing added: “Short-staffed hospitals can ill-afford soaring numbers to be away from work.” The NHS is now planning for temporary canvas ‘field hospitals’ in car parks next month to hold 100 patients each.

Mortuary workers have been told to expect more bodies as Omicron takes hold.

Non-urgent surgery across England has been postponed and there are plans to cancel further operations next month.

But Juliet Bouverie of the Stroke Association warned there must be no return to victims dithering over asking for treatment, which was linked to a 54% increase in deaths last year.

She said: “More Omicron is likely to mean more preventable deaths and disability as people delay seeking emergency medical attention.”

Today it emerged that fear of Omicron has boosted vaccination uptake, with an 85% increase in 18-24s having a first jab.

Some 30 million have now had boosters .

Vaccine centres will be open over the holidays, aided by 750 soldiers drafted in.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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