NHS in perilous state as Omicron hits workforce and delays care for millions of patients, BMA survey finds

Press release from the BMA

Location: England UK
Last reviewed: 8 January 2022

Around two-thirds of UK doctors have told the BMA that the spread of Omicron is causing a dramatic slowdown in the provision of non-urgent medical care, leaving millions of patients in untold suffering as a result.1

In a snap survey by the Association, the severe impact of this wave of the pandemic on the health service is clear, with more than one in five doctors having had to personally self-isolate within the last two weeks.2

Nine in ten said clinical colleagues had to take sick leave or self-isolate within the same period.3 Less than half of doctors said they could always access lateral flow tests, which are required to return to work as quickly as possible.4

When asked how they believed the rise of Omicron might continue to negatively impact patients needing routine planned surgery, investigations, and procedures, their answers were sobering, with more than nine in 10 doctors worried about the NHS’s ability to provide urgent and acute care to non-Covid patients, as well as tackling the backlog of nearly six million patients waiting for treatment.5

Many doctors are understandably worried about how non-Covid patients will get the treatment they need, especially when almost half of respondents said they are extremely concerned about staffing levels in their place of work.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “The Prime Minister is wrong to ask that the NHS ‘just get through it’: this survey shows that Omicron is battering our health service, forcing staff off sick, resulting in untold suffering for patients as a result.

“It is troubling that despite the infectiousness of the Omicron variant, almost half of doctors said that when working in red zones they were not provided with respirator masks which can filtrate airborne viral particles. This places them at an unacceptable risk of infection when we cannot afford further staff absences.

“We currently have a record-breaking waiting list stretching to almost six million; these are real people in distress, 312,000 of whom have been already waiting more than 12 months. As doctors, it is our job to provide the care they need and it’s incredibly distressing when we can’t do that, with the risk that many patients’ health will deteriorate as they wait.

“We need a thorough plan from Government for how to tackle the backlog with funding to match, as was highlighted only this week by the cross-party Health and Social Care Select Committee. Ultimately it is clear that the rate of infection must be brought down to reduce staff absence and the devastating impact of Covid on the health service.

“Doctors were strongly in favour of further public health measures with almost eight in 10 doctors supporting limits on households mixing indoors, nine in 10 supporting social distancing in public spaces, shops, the workplace and in hospitality, as well as temporary limits on large scale events and face masks in crowded spaces.6

“With GPs struggling with staff absences and some two-dozen hospital Trusts now declaring critical incidents, the Army being deployed to support hospitals, and some ambulance Trusts asking patients to make their own way to hospital, the Government must now act decisively to control the spread and impact of Omicron on our health service.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

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. Doctors were asked: Since the emergence of the Omicron variant, how if at all, has this impacted on any delays to elective or non-urgent medical care, investigations, procedures and treatments at your place of work? (5,725 responded)


• Delays decreased slightly – 2%
• Delays decreased significantly – 4%There has been no change – 10%
• Delays increased slightly – 28%
• Delays increased significantly – 36%
• Don’t know – 14%
• Not relevant – 6%


2. Doctors were asked: Within the last two weeks, have you personally had to remove and self-isolate yourself from work because of Covid? (5,910 responded)


• Yes – 21%
• No – 79%


3. Doctors were asked: Have any clinical colleagues in your department/team/practice been on sick leave or are self-isolating within the last two weeks? (5,933 responded)


• Yes – with significant impact on patient care – 34%
• Yes – with moderate impact on patient care – 35%
• Yes - but able to manage impact – 20%
• No – 7%
• Don’t know – 5%


4. Doctors were asked: Within the last three weeks, have you been able to access lateral flow tests (LFTs) when needed? (5,889 responded)


• Yes – always – 46%
• Yes – most of the time – 26%
• Yes – sometimes – 15%
• Yes – but very rarely – 7%
• No – never – 4%
• Not applicable – 3%


5. Doctors were asked: To what extent are you concerned that the emergence of the Omicron variant may negatively impact... (5,732 responded)


Staffing levels in your place of work – 1% said they were not at all concerned, 14% said slightly concerned, 38% said very concerned, 46% said they were extremely concerned, and 0.5% said they don’t know.


The NHS’ ability to reduce delays and waiting lists for elective or non-urgent medical care, investigations, procedures and treatments – 1% said they were not all concerned, 7% said slightly concerned, 32% said very concerned, 59% said they were extremely concerned, and 1% said they don’t know.


The NHS’ ability to deliver urgent and acute care to non-Covid patients – 2% said they were not at all concerned, 15% said slightly concerned, 34% said very concerned, 48% said they were extremely concerned, and 1% said they don’t know.


6. Doctors were asked: The following question relates to potential measures to limit spread of Covid-19 and we recognise current measures vary throughout the UK. To what extent do you, or would you, support any of the following societal measures for a defined period, to reduce pressures caused by Covid on the NHS? (5,040 responded)


Limits on the number of households that can meet indoors – 35% said they strongly support this, 25% said they support mostly, 21% said support slightly, 17% said not at all support, and 3% said don’t know.


Reintroduction of social distancing in public places, shops, and places of work – 52% said they strongly support this, 23% said they support mostly, 13% said support slightly, 10% said not at all support, and 2% said don’t know.


Reintroduction of social distancing in hospitality – 48% said they strongly support this, 26% said they support mostly, 14% said support slightly, 10% said not at all support, and 2% said don’t know.


Legally mandated face masks in crowded spaces/hospitality – 77% said they strongly support this, 12% said they support mostly, 5% said support slightly, 6% said not at all support, and 1% said don’t know.


Temporary limits on large events - 56% said they strongly support this, 22% said they support mostly, 12% said support slightly, 8% said not at all support, and 2% said don’t know.

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