THE NHS is reeling under the weight of staff absences, with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warning that up to a quarter of staff in some A&E departments are already off sick and the figure could even reach 40 per cent.
Patricia Marquis, of the Royal College Of Nursing, said: ‘Staff are already exhausted, both mentally and physically, after more than 18 months of fighting the pandemic, so the situation looks very bleak with no end in sight.
‘Health and social care staff are looking to the government to make the right decisions at the right time to protect them and the UK public.’
Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: ‘Surgical capacity is greatly affected by theatre staff being off sick or isolating; or being repurposed.
‘This goes for losing anaesthetists or nurses, as much as surgeons.
‘We were hoping volume of surgery would go up, but January and February is looking very difficult indeed.’
Dr Vishal Sharma, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Consultants Committee, said: ‘We’ve reached a stage now where government must cancel large indoor gatherings and re-introduce the two-metre social distancing rule.
‘A strong message must be sent to the public to limit social mixing, and there should also be clearer messaging to take a lateral flow tests before socialising, in addition to mask-wearing and ensuring adequate ventilation for gatherings.’
Jon Richards, Unison Assistant General Secretary, warned that many public services, including healthcare, ‘have so many staff off that they are worried they’ll not be able to keep going.’
He went on: ‘That’s why extra measures to curb virus spread are of the utmost importance in the coming weeks.’
Dr Ian Higginson, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘Our members, those who got back to us, were pretty emphatic that they are suffering significant staffing issues right now.
‘We’re worried that something is going to have to give.
‘When our members are reporting that 20-25 per cent of available staff are off sick for various reasons, but we think Covid is the prime contributor at the moment, that really is a considerable amount.
‘That will push us over the edge as regards normal function and we will have to start thinking about focusing our efforts on what we can do for the most people and concentrating our efforts on those who are most in need of our services.’
Professor Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London Southbank University, warned: ‘One of the scenarios we’ve modelled is around 40 per cent of the workforce being off, absent in London.
‘We’d hope that’s a worst-case scenario, but because we are already seeing an increase, I think it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect that to go up significantly.’
However, the Tory government reiterated that it will keep to its decision not to impose further Covid curbs in England.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said yesterday that ‘the evidence does not at present support more interventions’.