UK Covid live news: military on standby to extend hospital support beyond London, operation chief says

LIVE – Updated at 10:20

Latest updates: total of 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on 2 January.

Covid-related staff absences in hospital trusts in England up 59% in a week, says NHS

Covid-related staff absences at hospital trusts in England have risen by 59% in a week, according to figures released by NHS England this morning.

As PA Media reports, a total of 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid reasons on 2 January, up 59% on the previous week (24,632) and more than three times the number at the start of December (12,508), according to the figures. PA says:

The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.

In north-west England, 7,338 NHS staff at hospital trusts were absent due to Covid on January 2, up 85% week-on-week from 3,966, while in north-east England and Yorkshire there were 8,788 absences, more than double the number a week earlier (4,179).

In London absences were up 4% week-on-week, from 4,580 to 4,765.

Taking into account non-Covid absences, there were 82,384 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England who were absent for all sickness reasons (including isolation) on 2 January, up 21% on the previous week (68,082) and up 37% from the start of December (60,136).

Commenting on the figures, Prof Stephen Powis, the NHS national medical director, said:

Omicron means more patients to treat and fewer staff to treat them. In fact, around 10,000 more colleagues across the NHS were absent each day last week compared with the previous seven days and almost half of all absences are now down to Covid.

While we don’t know the full scale of the potential impact this new strain will have, it’s clear it spreads more easily and, as a result, Covid cases in hospitals are the highest they’ve been since February last year – piling even more pressure on hard working staff.

Covid trend in London ‘encouraging’, says minister

Paul Scully, who is minister for London as well as a business minister, told LBC this morning that he thought the situation in the capital was “encouraging”. Asked if Omicron was easing there, he replied:

I think it is looking encouraging, the trend at the moment, but clearly we need to be on our guard because there is still pressure on the NHS in London.

It is not just about the case numbers – there is a clear disconnect between case numbers and hospitalisations – but you’ve also then, because of the increased testing and the increased awareness by people, you’ve got bigger absences as well, and that’s obviously putting extra pressure on the NHS and other public services.

This chart, from the government’s UK Covid dashboard, shows how case rates in London are starting to fall.

© Provided by The Guardian
7-day case rates in London Photograph: Gov.UK

And Covid hospital admissions in London seem to be falling too.

© Provided by The Guardian
Covid hospital admission figures for London Photograph: Gov.UK

Military on standby to extend hospital support beyond London, operation chief says

Good morning. As we report in an overnight story, around 200 military personnel are being deployed in London hospitals to help them deal with the consequences of the Omicron surge.

Related: Military deployed at London hospitals due to Omicron staff shortages

Air Commodore John Lyle, the officer in charge of the deployment, has been giving interviews this morning and he told BBC Breakfast that similar interventions may take place in other regions in the country. Asked about the likelihood of this, he said

We can’t really forecast too far ahead, but certainly, throughout this current surge, we know that it’s particularly difficult in London at the minute but we are aware that this is impacting all across the United Kingdom. And so we remain in discussions and there are a number of areas where we’re looking at the potential for more assistance.

So, over the coming weeks or months, I think we’ll learn a lot from how the progress is made through London and potentially there could be further military support required in other areas.

Lyle also pointed out that the armed forces have already deployed about 1,800 personnel across the UK to help with the Covid response, mostly with the booster programme, but also helping the ambulance service.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The ONS publishes new data on the social impacts of Covid.

9.30am: NHS England is due to publish its situation report for hospitals.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

12pm: The ONS publishes its latest Covid infection survey.

12.15pm: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, holds a Covid briefing.

Lunchtime: Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is visiting a London hospital.

I will covering UK Covid developments in this blog today, but for wider coronavirus coverage, do read our global live blog.

Related: Covid live news: NHS ‘in very difficult circumstances’ as London hospitals call in military; India’s cases jump five-fold

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Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association, told Sky News this morning that he had never known a time when the NHS was having to deal with so many staff absences. He said:

Every winter of course, the NHS has additional pressures, but I don’t think anyone who’s worked in the NHS has experienced this level of absence of their colleagues and we’re feeling it in very real time because doctors and nurses and healthcare workers are having to cover for their absent colleagues – that’s adding additional, exceptional strain.

Asked how close the NHS was to being overwhelmed, he replied:

I think that the words like overwhelmed, I mean, I think we should just look at the reality.

The reality of the army having been drafted in to London, the reality of 24 hospitals having declared critical incidents, the reality of having some hospitals having to cancel all their routine surgery, the reality of general practices having to cancel clinics on the day.

I’m a GP, I’ve never known it this bad. We’re having to literally contact patients without notice that the staff member or a doctor or nurse just isn’t in today because they’re self-isolating.

This is not normal, and therefore, the government does need to recognise this is clearly an NHS under extreme pressure and the living reality sadly for thousands of patients is that they’re suffering the consequences of such pressures and also staff absence.

Nagpaul said he wanted to see more done to bring Omicron cases down, better protection for health workers, including higher-grade masks, and guaranteed access to lateral flow tests for NHS staff.

© Provided by The Guardian
Dr Chaand Nagpaul. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

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