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NHS staff shortages laid bare: Absence levels nearly at Delta wave peak – army called in

NHS staff shortages ‘an emergency situation’ says Dr Hilary

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The continued spread of the Covid variant Omicron within English communities is leading to high levels of staff absences in hospitals. This week a number of NHS trusts have declared ‘critical incidents’ due to a lack of employees, which is threatening to prevent vital care being delivered to patients. So, just how bad is the current staffing situation and how does it compare to previous points in the pandemic?

What is the current staffing situation?

According to the latest figures from NHS England, 39,142 staff at hospital trusts in England were absent because of Covid on January 2.

This represents an increase of 59 percent on the week before (24,632) and more than three times the level it was at the start of December.

Current levels of staff shortages are nearly at the same point witnessed during the peak of last January’s Delta wave.

At this point, absences were in excess of 40,000, which is around half the number of staff that were absent due to Covid during the first wave of the pandemic.

The council chairman of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said “we have never known this level of staff absence before” and the pressures facing the health service and GPs “is not normal”.

As of Thursday, at least 24 NHS trusts had declared a ‘critical incident’ in England.

These include the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.

Hospitals which move their status to critical are able to receive assistance from nearby hospitals and other NHS trusts.

Furthermore, on Friday, two major incidents were declared in England because of pressures caused by the spread of Covid.

Emergency services in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have announced that there is a civil emergency in effect.

In response to the surging case numbers and key workers self-isolating a number of agencies, including the NHS, Fire and Rescue Service, police and local authorities are stepping up their coordinated response.

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The move comes as some 200 Armed Forces personnel are being sent to support the NHS in London as hospitals grapple with staff shortages.

Here, military medics will assist NHS doctors and nurses with patient care, while general duty personnel help to fill gaps caused by other absences.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said the deployment means the Government can no longer deny there is a “staffing crisis” within the NHS.

Patricia Marquis, the RCN’s director for England, said: “The Prime Minister and others can no longer be dismissive of questions about the ability of NHS staff to deliver safe care.”

On Friday, the UK recorded a further 178,250 cases of Covid and an additional 229 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.

Overall, more than 14 million cases of the virus have now been detected within the British Isles since the pandemic began.

The latest data also shows 18,454 people are in hospital receiving treatment for Covid – correct as of December 6.

Omicron is being blamed for the UK’s escalating Covid situation, having so far reported more than 200,000 cases of the variant.

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