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2,000 more NHS staff in London absent due to covid in last two days

Published on: 22 Dec 2021

The number of NHS staff absent for reasons linked to covid has risen by 50 per cent in two days and now stands at 6,799. 

The total is double the number recorded a week ago.

With admissions and intensive care demand not having so far risen to the levels of previous peaks due to omicron, staff absence is the main concern for many NHS leaders and government. It is already beginning to undermine some services

In the capital — where case rates are highest and the new variant spread first — the number of covid-linked absences reported yesterday (Tuesday) was 6,799, according to internal NHS figures leaked to HSJ (see chart left). Two days before, it was 4,700 and a week ago, on 14 December, it was 3,375.

Covid has pushed the total staff absences for any reason in London on Tuesday to 13,653. That is estimated to be just over 6 per cent of the workforce. The rate will be much higher in particular staff groups, teams, trusts, or providers like GP practices. Staff, managers and professional groups have been sharing examples of very high absence rate meaning small services in particular are virtually unable to operate.

The Royal College of Physicians today claimed that ”more than 1 in 10 doctors are off work, 1 in 24 due to COVID. In London these figures increase to 1 in 7 off work and 1 in 13 [respectively].” 

Internal figures suggest that, in London, total absence rates reached about 7 per cent in January 2021, and about 13 per cent during the spring 2020 covid wave when covid vaccines had not yet been produced.

HSJ reported on Saturday that London covid absences had more than doubled in four days, a growth rate which would see one in three staff off by new year’s eve.

The growth slowed over the weekend but has picked up again this week. It was hoped a national decision on Thursday to allow staff to work even if a householder has covid, as long as the staff member tested negative, would ease the problem.

NHS England has highlighted guidance issued last week which asked trusts to prepare for workforce pressures, including to ”consider contingency options for significant staff absences to ensure essential services can be maintained”. At the weekend, NHSE medical director Steve Powis told the Sunday Times that one in five staff might be off by Christmas.