NHS coronavirus staff absences have almost quadrupled since September

The number of NHS staff off sick or self-isolating due to coronavirus has almost quadrupled since September, leaked figures reveal.

As many as 46,400 doctors and nurses are currently off work because of the virus, reports The Independent, which is almost four times as high as the 12,382 reported on September 2.

Overall, almost one in 10 staff (8.6 per cent) were off in the most recent available NHS figures – a total of 95,500 – with around half of them linked to Covid-19.

This includes people infected with the virus themselves or those who have to self-isolate because they have been in contact with a confirmed case.   

NHS England said staff members are asked to isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with a positive patient when not wearing PPE, to stop the virus spreading.

It comes amid warnings London’s hospitals could be overwhelmed by spiralling Covid admissions in less than two weeks even in a best case scenario. 

The chief of the capital’s NHS Vin Diwakar delivered the grim warning to hospital bosses during a Zoom meeting yesterday. 

Shocking figures last night revealed the number of Covid patients in Britain’s hospitals surged past 30,000 on January 4 – the most recent data. This was up 27 per cent in a week and towers above the worst figure of 21,700 in April last year.

Some hospitals are approaching breaking point, and preparing to turn to care homes for help, the chief executive of NHS Providers has said. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital had surged past 30,000 by January 4, NHS data reveals


Elderly Britons are refusing the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine because they’d rather ‘wait for the English one’ and failing to turn up for appointments as ministers scramble to turbo-charge the jab’s roll out.

Over-80s have turned their noses up at the Belgian-made shots in Stockton-on-Tees and insisted on having the Oxford jab, according to Dr Paul Williams who is administering the vaccine to residents.

And missed appointments led to up to 10 police officers receiving their first doses in Nottingham to prevent vital supplies going to waste. Once defrosted from -78C (-104F) doses of Pfizer’s jab — which trials have shown is more effective than Oxford University’s rival jab — must be used within days, official guidance from the UK’s regulator says.

Only 1.3million Britons have been vaccinated in the first month of the critical programme, as the sluggish roll out fails to gather steam. It has been plagued by supply and staffing shortages, logistical problems and bureaucratic barriers that have strangled the scale-up.

Boris Johnson is tonight expected to unveil a new Army-led plan designed by senior military battlefield planners to distribute the jabs, as he seeks to put drastically speed up the roll out. 

Staff shortages because of sickness and self-isolation are one of the many factors piling extra pressure on to NHS hospitals. 

Figures from NHS England suggest staff absences have surged past the levels last winter, when an average 4.9 per cent were off between January and March.

But hospital bosses cautioned the comparison was not entirely accurate because last year’s figure was calculated by dividing the total number of sick days by the total number of staff – rather than the number of staff calling in sick.

They added the different time periods – with the above figure including months yet to happen in 2021 – also meant the analysis was not reliable.

And the fact many staff were not isolating due to Covid-19, which wasn’t an issue at the time. 

NHS staff absences in January were less than half the levels in the first wave – when 104,7000 were absent from shifts on April 2.

And total absences were 39 per cent below the same time in April – when as many as 155,300 were not able to come to work.

This number may have been significantly reduced by the Government’s decision to cut the self-isolation period from 14 to 10 days in early December, releasing key workers four days earlier.

Increased availability of PPE in the health service will also have left fewer healthcare workers exposed to the virus, and hence needing to self-isolate.

And improved testing capacity means anyone exposed to Covid-19 can be checked faster, allowing those who aren’t infected to be released from self-isolation early.

A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘In line with government guidance, NHS staff are required to isolate following community contact with a confirmed Covid case and it is a priority to keep staff safe and well, physically and mentally – with a number of support offers, including a health and wellbeing support package that has now been accessed over 600,000 times.

‘The NHS is also rapidly accelerating roll out of the Covid vaccine, which will allow staff to continue to care for patients.’

Amid surging admissions in the capital, NHS chiefs laid out three scenarios to hospital managers yesterday, the Health Services Journal reports.

The briefing shows they had just 46 spare ICU beds in January, which is three per cent of its overall capacity. Over 70 per cent of its critical beds were taken up by people with Covid.

Hospitals across England are seeing more coronavirus patients than they did in the first wave in 2020 (Pictured: Staff in an intensive care ward in St George's Hospital in London)

Hospitals across England are seeing more coronavirus patients than they did in the first wave in 2020 (Pictured: Staff in an intensive care ward in St George’s Hospital in London)

On the same date there were just spare 720 general and acute beds, five per cent of its total, and more than 40 per cent were in use by infected patients.

Mr Diwakar found the ‘best’ case forecast would mean the number of Covid patients in G&A beds rising to 9,500 by January 19, with non-Covid patients remaining the same at 7,460 – a number which remains constant throughout all the scenarios.

After small demand control measures, the total demand is predicted to be at 17,100.

Possible ways of increasing capacity includes the NHS securing an additional 400 beds, with the independent sector finding 50.

The ‘average’ scenario would see a shortfall of 2,900 beds, with 4,400 in the ‘worse’ scenario.

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