Covid absence figures show pressure on NHS in England becoming unsustainable, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 31 December 2021
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Responding to data published today showing 24,632 staff were absent through Covid-19 sickness of self-isolation at acute NHS hospital trusts in England on Boxing Day, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:

“These statistics show the BMA’s repeated warnings about the impact of Omicron on the NHS workforce being realised. Not only are doctors incredibly worried about the rising number of people in hospital with Covid-19 – now at the highest level since early March – but also the health service’s ability to provide vital care to all patients, with more than 24,000 staff now off sick with Covid or self-isolating. That’s the equivalent of 178 staff off work at each acute trust in England.

At the very time the NHS is standing up hundreds of extra beds in ‘Nightingale’ units to prepare for a surge in hospital admissions, the number of staff absences is rising rapidly – up 31% in a week for acute trusts in England alone - and today’s figures underline the futility of increasing bed capacity with fewer people to staff it.

“Furthermore, these statistics do not take into account staff at GP practices, community hospitals or other healthcare settings, so in reality the number will be much higher – and the impact on patients much further-reaching. With a record backlog in care, we cannot afford to be losing such a high number of staff.

“Meanwhile, our members are increasingly telling us that they cannot access lateral flow or PCR tests, leaving them unable to show a negative test that allows them to work. With widespread shortages, the Government must ensure that key workers are properly prioritised for tests so they can continue working.

“For those who are at work, they need the highest level of protection to stop more of them becoming infected, getting ill and having to take time off. The BMA is calling for staff to be provided with higher grade PPE, like FFP3 masks, which offer far greater protection against the airborne particles through which Covid-19 spreads.

“With Omicron now spreading so rapidly in the community – and daily cases nearing 200,000 – the pressure this is placing on the NHS, through staff absences and rising hospitalisations, is becoming unsustainable. The BMA is clear that further public health measures1 are needed urgently to prevent the health service being completely overwhelmed, and today’s figures are further evidence why this is needed now.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. The BMA is calling for:
    - Limits to social mixing and reducing contacts between households;
    - Cancellation of large social gatherings;
    - Better protection for healthcare workers – including the clear recommendation and supply of high-grade FFP3 masks for staff coming into contact with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases, and FFP2 masks for all other patient-facing staff;
    - Mask wearing in all indoor public settings, including hospitality settings when people are not eating or drinking;
    - Reintroduction of social distancing;
    - The introduction of ventilation standards in public venues;
    - Re-introduction of universal mask wearing and social distancing in schools;
    - Negative lateral flow test results to be a requirement in Covid certification – rather than double-vaccination, given the Government’s own admission that two doses of vaccine are not enough to protect against Omicron;
    - Financial support for businesses and individuals impacted by any new measures.