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Nearly 50,000 NHS staff could be off sick with Covid by Christmas

by Jess Hacker
20 December 2021

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The NHS in England could be looking at almost 50,000 staff absences over Christmas if the Government fails to introduce further restrictions, new BMA analysis suggests.

The union said that the missing workforce would have a ‘devastating impact’ on the health service’s ability to provide ‘even the most urgent care’.

Based on an analysis of current Covid trends applied across the total NHSE workforce, the BMA estimated the even the ‘best case scenario’ would see more than 32,000 staff off sick on 25 December.

In its ‘worst case’ imaging, as many as 130,000 – or one-in-10 – NHS staff members could be away from work with Covid-19.

The BMA warned these absences could see waits for care in GP surgeries and hospitals ‘rise even further’.

Westminster must now introduce Covid measures beyond its accelerated booster plans to avoid ‘extreme’ workforce shortages that would ‘severely limit’ the NHS.

Last week, leading figures in the sector warned that Omicron is ‘already creating staff shortages’.

Relying on boosters ‘not enough’

The Government’s current strategy of relying ‘solely’ on vaccinations is ‘not enough’ and is ‘already’ causing preventable harm to the NHS, education and the economy, the association said.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘Amid the surging case-rate, driven by the hugely transmissible Omicron variant, doctors are not only incredibly worried about the potential impact this could have on hospitalisations, but also about what it would mean for patient care across the NHS if we have vast swathes of staff off sick with the virus.’

He added that the Government should recall MPs this week to discuss cancelling large indoor gatherings, re-introducing social distancing and delivering ‘strong’ messaging to the public.

He said: ‘Without targeted action, infection rates will continue to rise to unprecedented levels. We need action now to prevent a new lockdown becoming the only way to protect the health service from being overwhelmed.’

The BMA clarified that its analysis does not account for staff who would be self-isolating as a household contact.

However, the Government last week stated that fully vaccinated practice staff no longer need to isolate for 10 days if they are a close contact of an Omicron case.