More than one in five doctors (21%) had to self-isolate in the last two weeks, a snapshot survey by the BMA has found.
The survey, which received almost 6,000 responses from doctors of all specialties, also found that nine in 10 (89%) doctors’ clinical colleagues had to take sick leave or self-isolate in the last two weeks.
And less than half of doctors (46%) said they could always access lateral flow tests, which are required to return to work as soon as possible.
This comes despite the fact NHS England told GP practices they can access a ‘significant contingency supply’ if they are struggling to get hold of tests.
And almost half of doctors (46%) said they are ‘extremely concerned’ that Omicron will negatively impact staffing levels at their place of work.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the survey showed that ‘Omicron is battering our health service, forcing staff off sick, resulting in untold suffering for patients as a result’ and said Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ‘wrong to ask that the NHS “just get through it”’.
More than nine in 10 doctors (97%) who completed the survey said they were worried about the NHS’s ability to provide urgent and acute care to non-Covid patients, as well as tackling the backlog of nearly six million patients waiting for treatment (98%).
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘It is troubling that despite the infectiousness of the Omicron variant, almost half of doctors said that when working in red zones they were not provided with respirator masks which can filtrate airborne viral particles. This places them at an unacceptable risk of infection when we cannot afford further staff absences.’
The BMA has advised that GPs should wear FFP2 face masks ‘as default’ when consulting patients face to face after GPs, and Pulse reported that GPs were forced to buy their own higher grade PPE to protect staff.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘We currently have a record-breaking waiting list stretching to almost six million; these are real people in distress, 312,000 of whom have been already waiting more than 12 months. As doctors, it is our job to provide the care they need and it’s incredibly distressing when we can’t do that, with the risk that many patients’ health will deteriorate as they wait.
‘We need a thorough plan from Government for how to tackle the backlog with funding to match, as was highlighted only this week by the cross-party Health and Social Care Select Committee. Ultimately it is clear that the rate of infection must be brought down to reduce staff absence and the devastating impact of Covid on the health service.
He added: ‘Doctors were strongly in favour of further public health measures with almost eight in 10 doctors supporting limits on households mixing indoors, nine in 10 supporting social distancing in public spaces, shops, the workplace and in hospitality, as well as temporary limits on large scale events and face masks in crowded spaces.
He added that the Government ‘must now act decisively’ in order to control the spread of Covid infections and the effect of health services.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.