YESTERDAY morning 200 armed forces personnel were sent into the London NHS to help plug staff shortages in NHS hospitals across London.
The Ministry of Defence will provide 40 defence medics and 160 general duty personnel for the next three weeks. (see page 3)
Responding to the latest NHS England Urgent and Emergency Care Daily Situation Report, Patricia Marquis, RCN Director for England said: ‘These figures reveal why the government hurriedly announced military support for health and care services in London last night.
‘The numbers off work due to Covid-19 in acute trusts rose by almost 60% in the most recent week and have more than trebled in a month to nearly 40,000 staff in a single day
‘Outside of healthcare, staffing shortages are closing shops and cancelling trains but nurses can’t stop helping their patients. Instead, they find themselves spread thinner and thinner, but they can’t keep spinning plates indefinitely either – this situation is simply not safe.
‘Too many are exposed to Covid-19 at work due to improper protection – highest grade FFP3 masks and priority testing need to be provided as standard.’
Hospitals in London have been hit hard by staff absences, with thousands off sick or isolating as the Omicron variant surged through the capital.
Earlier this week, the prime minister said he hoped England could ‘ride out’ the latest wave without further restrictions.
Pressure on London hospitals has increased over the past month, with 4,000 patients currently in hospital with Covid compared with 1,100 in early December.
As of Thursday afternoon, 17 hospital trusts in England were experiencing critical incidents – about one in eight of the total.
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis says rising Covid-19 cases are ‘piling even more pressure’ on hospital trust workers.
‘Omicron means more patients to treat and fewer staff to treat them,’ he says.
‘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.’
He says that while we do not know the full scale of the potential impact the Omicron variant could have, it is clear it spreads more easily and as a result ‘Covid cases in hospitals are the highest they’ve been since February last year’.
Staff are ‘stepping up as they always do’ he adds, but people can help them by ensuring they are vaccinated.
Last week nearly a quarter of ambulances faced long delays handing over patients to A&E staff.
Some 23% of crews had to wait more than 30 minutes in the week up to 2 January – it should only take 15.
That is a similar level to what was being seen before Christmas, but above the numbers seen before the pandemic began when 18% of ambulances were facing delays at this point of winter.
Approximately 4% of staff at acute NHS trusts in England were off due to Covid each day during the week ending 2 January.
That’s 35,596 staff each day on average, up by 41% on the previous week.
There were 80,295 absences (about 9% of staff) due to any sickness or isolation each day that week.
Covid absences were up by roughly three quarters in the North East and Yorkshire and in the North West.
Some of the hardest-hit hospitals in the country are in the north of England: Sheffield’s teaching hospitals were missing 11% of staff due to Covid.
A total of 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on 2nd January, up 59% on the previous week (24,632) and more than three times the number at the start of December (12,508), according to new figures from NHS England.
The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.