Employment

NHS facing Covid staff crisis in 'busiest week' of the year

“As a doctor that’s lying in bed feeling very guilty with covid, it’s awful because you feel you’re part of the problem really.” 

As many partied with friends and family to celebrate the New Year nearly one in 10 NHS workers were absent. Image: Unsplash / Marcel Scholte

Hospitals are facing their busiest week of the year amid an NHS staffing crisis as widespread absences due to Covid and the warning of a mass exodus threaten to affect care. 

Eight NHS Trusts have declared a critical incident over their ability to provide a high standard of care to patients in what is, under normal circumstances, “the busiest week in the NHS calendar,” according to Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers.

“Over the last ten days we’ve seen lots of pressure in London and that is now moving to the rest of the country,” he told TalkRadio, as one in ten medical staff are currently off work. “The NHS and our social care colleagues are very busy with non-Covid care.”

The eight NHS Trusts which declared a critical incident have officially acknowledged their hospitals won’t be able to provide the quality of care that they want to, unless they receive help from other services, explained Hopson.

While the number of Covid cases in hospitals might still be manageable, the explosion in cases across the country and among NHS staff has left many wards with a skeleton workforce.

Hospitals are facing crippling shortages of staff across departments as nearly 1 in 10 health care professionals were off work over New Year – the busiest time of year for all patients. Some 50,000 essential health workers at home were either sick or self-isolating over New Year.

MPs launched an investigation into the NHS staffing crisis in November, just hours after the government voted down plans to monitor workforce planning.

Dr Katie Rogerson, a paediatrician at a large London hospital who spoke to The Big Issue while at home, ill with covid, said of the staff shortages “it’s not sustainable.”  

“As a doctor that’s lying in bed feeling very guilty with covid, it’s awful because you feel you’re part of the problem really.” 

Rogerson was about to leave her home for her shift on Christmas Eve when her partner tested positive for coronavirus, forcing her to stay at home to isolate. She then contracted the virus and has been off work for ten days. 

Rogerson, who co-runs the grassroots campaign group NHS Million, said of her colleagues and other NHS staff; “people are saying they can’t cope, they can’t look to the future.” 

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called on the government to impose new restrictions in England to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and allow staff to recover. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said restrictions would be a “last resort”. 

Members of the RCN warned the health secretary that the health and care service is “already short tens of thousands of professionals” so can “ill afford” the losses of further staff to illness with covid-19 or isolation. 

Meanwhile, Union Unison has warned of a mass exodus of NHS staff who are facing extreme burnout after working through multiple waves of the virus and could quit, leaving the NHS in a “perilous state”.

Over half of the health staff survey by union said they were thinking of quitting their jobs, and of those, 54 per cent said they are actively looking to leave.

The survey findings – based on responses from more than 10,000 health employees in Wales, England and Northern Ireland –  found that over half had covered more shifts because of staff shortages.

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