UK Covid live: virus-related staff absences in England’s hospitals up by nearly 60% with north-west hit hardest

LIVE – Updated at 11:11

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

Labour urges parliamentary commissioner for standards to investivate PM’s ‘cash for access’ text

Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, has said that Labour is asking the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, to investigate the text messages between Boris Johnson and Lord Brownlow, the Tory donor who initially funded his flat refurbishment. Reed said the WhatsApp message from Johnson to Brownlow that included both a request for help with the refurbishment costs and an assurance that Brownlow’s plans for a “Great Exhibition” were been looked at suggested a “cash for access” arrangement.

Reed told the Today programme:

What we’re seeing here is a case of, potentially, cash for access where Lord Brownlow was given access to ministers to try and influence them over decisions of spending taxpayers’ money – that is why this matters so immensely.

Those very cosy text messages show there was a quid pro quo in operation between the prime minister and Lord Brownlow, and we need to get to the absolute bottom of this.

Paul Scully, the business minister, dismissed claims the message was inappropriate, stressing that the “Great Exhibition” is not going ahead anyway. (See 10.44am.) But Reed said that was irrelevant. He told Today:

The issue is not whether it happened, it is whether rich people can pay to get access to government ministers to try and influence them over how they decide to spend taxpayers’ money.

Demand for foreign holidays returning to pre-pandemic levels, say travel companies

Travel companies say demand for foreign holidays is returning to pre-pandemic levels following the government’s decision to relax travel rules.

As PA Media reports, Steve Heapy, chief executive of tour operator Jet2holidays and leisure airline, said:

We have seen an immediate and dramatic spike in bookings, with volumes since the government announcement heading towards pre-pandemic levels, which demonstrates just how much demand is out there among people wanting to get away for a much-needed holiday.

A spokeswoman for the tour operator Tui said:

We’ve already seen an immediate and strong uptick in bookings and we now expect summer 2022 bookings to be normalised.

January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday bookings and demand is yet to reach pre-Covid levels, so we need to see sustained confidence in travel so the industry can fully recover.

And Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury travel company Kuoni, said:

I predict travel will be 90% back to 2019 levels before the end of spring. We’re already seeing increased call volumes and inquiries about trips for the year ahead as confidence builds.

On Wednesday the UK government announced that pre-departure tests for people coming to England from abroad were being abandoned. As the Scottish government said yesterday, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also adopting the same rules.

Video: Boris Johnson: Pressure on NHS in coming weeks to be ‘considerable’ (Birmingham Mail)

Boris Johnson: Pressure on NHS in coming weeks to be ‘considerable’

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‘Nothing untoward’ in Johnson’s ‘great exhibition’ texts, says minister

There was “nothing untoward” in the prime minister discussing a proposed “great exhibition” with a Conservative donor who was helping to fund his Downing Street flat refurbishment, Paul Scully, the business minister, said this morning. My colleague Jamie Grierson has the story here.

Related: ‘Nothing untoward’ in Johnson’s ‘great exhibition’ texts, says minister


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Today’s figures from NHS England also show that on average there are almost 10,000 patients in hospital each day who no longer needed to stay in hospital but who were not being discharged. On average, only 42% of patients meeting the discharge criteria were being discharged per day in the week ending 2 January, NHS England says.

The problem is caused largely by the lack of places available in social care.

NHS England says this is a particular problem for long-stay patients (who have been in hospital for at least three weeks). It says that last week on average there were 4,495 long-stay patients in hospital every day who no longer needed to stay, but on average only 440 of them were actually discharged per day.

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.

7-day case rates in London Photograph: Gov.UK

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

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

Covid hospital admission figures for London Photograph: Gov.UK

© 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.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

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Dr Chaand Nagpaul. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

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