NHS Covid staff absences triple in three weeks as Army called in to hospitals



NHS staff absences due to Covid have exploded by 62% since Christmas Day, official figures showed today as 200 troops were called in to London hospitals.

An eye-watering 39,142 acute Trust staff in England were absent due to Covid illness or isolation on January 2, the most recent date available.

That is up from 24,197 on Christmas Day, more than double the 18,829 on December 19, and more than triple the 12,240 staff off on December 12.

NHS absences reached their peak just before New Year’s Eve, with 40,654 staff off for Covid reasons.

But they remained high through the new year weekend, hitting 40,149 on December 31 and 39,331 on January 1.

It comes after Boris Johnson admitted some hospitals will feel “temporarily overwhelmed” in the Omicron wave – months after he pledged to do “whatever it takes” to stop the NHS being overwhtaylorelmed.

The PM faces questions of who he will turn to next after troops were drafted in to help the NHS fight the coronavirus Omicron wave.

A patient is taken to the operating theatre in the Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital
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The Prime Minister ordered the Armed Forces to support the health service as it battles rising hospital admissions and comes under mounting pressure from the Covid-19 strain.

London will receive 40 military medics and 160 general duty personnel to deal with a high absence rate among health staff.

The Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, Patricia Marquis said: “The Government can no longer deny the staffing crisis in the NHS.

“The Prime Minister and others can no longer be dismissive of questions about the ability of NHS staff to deliver safe care.

“Once the military has been brought in, where does the Government turn next in a bid to ‘ride out’ the wave rather than deal with it?

“Nursing staff might welcome any extra help at work right now, but we need to know that the Government isn’t compromising patient and professional standards in any way.”

Yet there are “encouraging” signs the city is emerging from the Omicron wave, according to a minister.

Minister for London Paul Scully added military personnel being deployed in the capital would be a “mixture of medics, porterage and these kinds of things” to assist hospitals.

Omicron cases are now surging in the Midlands, Wales, the North West and North East with many hospitals unable to maintain normal services.

In the North West 7,338 hospital staff were absent due to Covid on January 2, up 85% in a week.

In the North East and Yorkshire there were 8,788 absences, more than double the number a week earlier.

The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said Omicron was a fast-moving situation “moving up the country”.

Boris Johnson has admitted some hospitals could feel temporarily overwhelmed
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He said: “We’ve suggested that as a very short-term expedient we should think about clinical students working at the front line.

“We are in a very, very difficult set of circumstances – we all hope this will last a few weeks, but in those circumstances we have to do everything we can, and we as the public have to understand the pressure the health service is in.”

Paige Taylor, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: “Like thousands of others, I lost my Mum last Winter to hospital acquired Covid.

“She was just 53 and I couldn’t even be at her side when she tragically passed away. My Mum died as a consequence of hospitals being allowed to become ‘overwhelmed’.

“The hospital she was at was so overcrowded they were unable to contain the spread of the virus within their own walls, she was sharing a ward with eight people, and patients couldn’t get the care they needed.

“To hear that a year on, we could be in an even worse position with the NHS ‘stretched like never before’ and even more Covid-19 patients in hospital than last Winter, is horrifying.

“The consequences will be people like my Mum dying unnecessarily. To see this happening all over again with seemingly nothing being done, makes me feel despair.

“The Government must take a hands-on approach to learn the lessons from last winter and protect lives rather than ‘riding the wave’ of Covid.”

Air Commodore John Lyle said the Army had serviced over 400 requests for individual support from the military since March 2020, while more than 1,000 personnel were deployed supporting the booster programme.

Support in hospitals was part of a “wide range” of help provided by the armed services, he said.

He said patients could expect to see a “primarily NHS workforce” supported by personnel wearing Army uniform and protective equipment.

He added that the Army remained in discussions and that there were areas where they were aware of the need for more assistance outside London where support will be deployed first.

British Medical Association council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul told Sky News it was important that “the Government doesn’t just wait to ride this out, because every day people are suffering”.

The NHS answered almost 80,000 more 111 calls this week than the week before, a rise of more than a quarter.

Almost 3,000 critical care and general acute beds have been closed due to covid or norovirus over the last week.

NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Omicron means more patients to treat and fewer staff to treat them. In fact, around 10,000 more colleagues across the NHS were absent each day last week compared with the previous seven days and almost half of all absences are now down to covid.

“While we don’t know the full scale of the potential impact this new strain will have it’s clear it spreads more easily and, as a result, covid cases in hospitals are the highest they’ve been since February last year – piling even more pressure on hard working staff.

“Those staff are stepping up as they always do; answering a quarter more 111 calls last week than the week before, dealing with an increasing number of ambulance call outs, and working closely with colleagues in social care to get people out of hospital safely.

“You can help us to help you by ensuring you are vaccinated against covid.

“And as has been the case throughout the pandemic, if you have a health problem, please go to 111 online and call 999 when it is a life threatening condition – the NHS is here for you.”

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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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