Nearly a third more NHS staff back at work after December Covid sickness surge

The NHS Covid staffing crisis appears to be easing, as a new survey of doctors suggested about a third more are back at work compared to December.

Staff absence rates due to the omicron wave surged last month, with nearly one in 10 NHS staff off sick on New Year’s Eve.

About 25 NHS trusts declared critical incidents, which included 17 hospitals in Greater Manchester cancelling non-urgent surgeries, due to shortages and rising admissions.

However, a survey by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has found that the absence rates could now be starting to ease, with 7.5 per cent of respondents off work in the past three weeks, compared to 10.5 per cent in December.

Dr Andrew Goddard, the president of the RCP, said they were “pleased” to see absence rates had fallen since last month, but warned “it’s clear that availability of workforce remains the limiting factor to both morale and the performance of the NHS”.

The survey of 1,218 members between January 8 to 11 also found that a fifth, 20.5 per cent, of doctors said they had felt overwhelmed almost every day at work in the past three weeks, and more than two thirds at least once.

More than half of doctors, 55 per cent, said they had been asked to fill gaps in the staff rota at short notice, and of those almost a quarter, 24 per cent, had been asked to cover colleagues at least once while on annual leave.

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Doctors’ morale ‘as low as ever before’

Dr Goddard said: “Staff are feeling as low as ever before. The conversations I have with colleagues every day, lead me to sense a real shift in how well people feel they are able to cope. 

“We need to keep this in mind because while we may see some light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, we have a long way to go before we are through the current pressures and have even further to go to clear the backlog.”

The figures came as one frontline consultant said it is now “increasingly likely” we can “ride out the omicron wave”.

Dr Richard Cree, an intensive care consultant at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, had previously feared that the number of patients being admitted would be higher due to the latest Covid-19 variant.

Writing in his blog, Dr Cree said: “Across the country, the number of people being admitted to hospital following infection remains high.

“However, the number of people being admitted hasn’t risen as high as I feared it might and it may even be starting to plateau.”

He added: “I will admit that I thought things might be worse by now but I’m all too happy to be proved wrong. It’s looking increasingly likely that we may be able to ‘ride out’ the omicron wave after all.”

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