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NHS staff Covid absences falling but still higher than before Christmas

By PA News

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Covid-related absences of NHS staff at hospitals in England are continuing to fall, but levels are still higher than before Christmas, new figures show.

An average of 30,375 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate each day in the week to January 23, according to data from NHS England.

This is down 15% on the average of 35,555 the previous week, but still nearly double the 17,836 average absences in the seven days to December 19.

NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “While it is positive to see more NHS staff back at work, pressure on the NHS is still intense, having seen the busiest week for ambulances taking patients to A&E since the start of December – up almost 2,000 on the week before last – all while pushing to deliver as many routine checks and procedures as possible, including vital diagnostic checks.

“Our staff have already had what feels like a long winter, but despite everything they have had to contend with, they continue to step up as they always do; answering thousands more 111 calls last week than the seven days before, continuing to care for thousands of Covid patients and maintaining non-Covid procedures, and working closely with colleagues in social care to get people out of hospital safely.”

Ambulances parked up outside the accident and emergency department at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, Portsmouth (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Ambulances parked up outside the accident and emergency department at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, Portsmouth (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The NHS England figures, published on Thursday, also show that the seven-day average number of Covid staff absences at English hospital trusts fell across every region of England in the week to January 23.

The biggest drop was in the North West, with the seven-day average down 25% from 7,485 in the week to January 16 to 5,654 in the seven days to Sunday January 23.

This was followed by London, down 22% from 3,810 to 2,961, then the Midlands, down 13% from 8,498 to 7,428.

London was the only region where its most recent seven-day average was lower than the week before Christmas, but it was the first area where the Omicron variant first began to surge.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The figures suggest one in 50 (2%) of NHS staff working in acute hospital trusts were off sick or self-isolating due to Covid on average in the week January 23, based on NHS Digital monthly workforce data for September for acute trusts, the most recent available.

East Cheshire NHS Trust and University Hospitals of Derby and Burton Foundation Trust had the highest proportion of staff off that week, based on their September headcount, at 7%.

They were followed by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust, both at 6%.

Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England, said the latest figures were a “bellwether for the huge pressures” nursing staff are still under.

She added: “With bed occupancy and staff sickness absence levels still sky high – Covid-19-related staff absence is still more than double what it was at the start of the Omicron wave with bed occupancy running at above 90% – those staff face a daily struggle to provide safe care.

“Ministers must be under no illusions about how dire the situation remains. Exhausted and demoralised nursing staff – also grappling with a huge backlog at a time of tens of thousands of vacancies – see no end in sight.”

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