NHS bosses have called for a change to self-isolation rules for double-vaccinated healthcare workers.
It is understood that up to a fifth of staff in some parts of the UK are off work with sickness, and self-isolation is increasing the burden and creating a threadbare workforce.
The issue of nurses being off work due to contact tracing and mandatory self-isolation was described as a "big issue" by one top-level NHS official.
"With demand levels about 20 per cent up on the levels that we saw pre-pandemic, and they were high, then you can imagine the stress and tension," another source said.
A senior NHS manager added: "The rules around [self-isolation] need a rethink. I’ve got lots of medics who are saying, ‘I’m double jabbed, I’ve done a flow test, I’m negative, can I come back to work?’.
"Covid-positive patients are nowhere near as sick as [before] but we’ve also got like, 130, 140, registered nurses off, isolating, and this is a big issue."
Dr Ben Lovell, an associate professor of medical education and a consultant in acute internal medicine at UCL Hospitals, tweeted on Wednesday…
Desperately desperately desperately understaffed due to the NHS Covid app telling Covid-negative, asymptomatic, double-vaxxed doctors to go into isolation for up to 10 days at a time.
This cannot go on.
— Ben Lovell (@DrBenLovell) June 30, 2021
He explained in a follow-up message that these contacts were from their lives outside of work, and were from exposure at events in the community.
His tweet has accrued more than 7,000 likes, and doctors and nurses have endorsed it, echoing the sentiment.
"Agree. Definitely needs a review," replied Ashley Law, a critical care sister.
"Why if someone has received both vaccinations and do regular lateral flow tests do they need to continue like this? At least offer another PCR test and if this is negative, work can resume."
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: "Keeping patients and staff safe is an absolute priority for trust leaders, and no-one underestimates the crucial importance of rigorous infection control.
"But we know the continuing self isolation requirements are a source of frustration for some staff, particularly for those who are double-jabbed, tested negative and want to support their colleagues.
"These rules can be disruptive, so it’s important to ensure they are evidence based and kept under close review."
The comments from prominent NHS leaders and high-profile clinicians on the frontline come as there is ongoing pressure to end self-isolation for children in schools.
Official figures published on Thursday by NHS Digital also revealed that in February, during the peak of the third wave of Covid-19 and the most recent month in which there is data on staff absences, there were 1,643,152 total sick days among NHS staff in England.
Almost a fifth (18 per cent) were due to Covid-19, the figures show, and the vast majority of these – more than a quarter of a million – were among clinical staff or clinical support staff.
Figures show 94,757 sick days among nurses and health visitors, 5,366 among midwives, and 9,465 for paramedics.
Data on the number of NHS staff self-isolating for February – the last month there is available data – have not been published.
But in the months since February, officials say staff sickness has increased, as too has the number of doctors needing to self-isolate.
"We’ve got [staff] sickness rates of 15 to 20 per cent, and of those, for 50 per cent it’s fatigue, it’s depression," one NHS boss said.
"Our staff sickness levels are at historic averages," added another.