Omicron-fuelled staffing shortages in the NHS are a ‘bigger problem’ than rising Covid admissions, health bosses warn
Thousands of nurses and doctors are having to self-isolate every day because of the rapid spread of Omicron.
Dr David Nicholl, of the Doctors’ Association, described the ever-growing number of absences as ‘our biggest worry’ over the coming weeks.
Worst-case scenario modelling projected up to 40 per cent of NHS staff in London — the UK’s Omicron hotspot — could be off each day.
Hospitals had already resorted to cancelling routine ops before the highly-infectious variant started to spiral, mirroring scenes from the darkest days of the pandemic last spring. And A&E bosses have warned the crisis may leave doctors with no option but to focus on treating the most severely ill patients.
But the staffing absences could cause pile even more chaos onto the health service, which frontline medics say is already ‘functioning on life support’.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’re now seeing a significant increase in the level of staff absences.
‘And quite a few of our chief executives are saying that they think that that’s probably going to be a bigger problem and a bigger challenge… than the number of people coming in who need treatment because of Covid.
‘So what we’re seeing is in some hospitals, we’re now having to redeploy staff to fill the gaps that are being left in critical and essential services by staff who are off with Covid-related absences.’
A total of 18,829 NHS staff were absent because of the coronavirus on December 19, up from 12,240 a week earlier.
And experts fear numbers have increased further over the last week-and-a-half due to the spread of Omicron, which is now dominant in every region.
Covid-related absences have tripled in a week at London’s biggest trust, underlying the huge problem the rest of England faces over the coming weeks.
At the same time, the number of admissions has increased. Christmas Day saw 1,281 infected patients placed on wards, up 74 per cent in a week to the highest level since February.