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The number of National Health Service (NHS) staff in England not showing up for work due to a Covid-19 contact or infection has increased by more than half in a week, adding to mounting pressures on the state-funded provider.
In London, the epicentre of the UK Omicron outbreak and seen as an indicator of what will happen elsewhere in the country, the number of Covid-related absences more than doubled from 1,540 to 3,874.
A total of 18,829 NHS England staff reported being off work due to Covid-19 on December 19, a 54% increase from 12,240 a week earlier, according to official NHS figures released on Thursday.
Absences peaked at 19,589 on December 17. Total absences, including those not reported to be related to Covid-19, increased by 7,332 to 64,221.
The numbers are likely to have grown sharply in the past four days as infections soar across the country. On Wednesday, more than 100,000 new cases were reported for a single day for the first time, reinforcing evidence that Omicron is more transmissible than earlier strains.
A high absence rate will put even more pressure on the health service, where staff were already suffering from fatigue after nearly two years fighting the virus and trying to clear a backlog of delayed treatments.
The more NHS staff are off sick, the fewer patients the service can handle. However, the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital has risen by only 311 in the past week to 8,008, according to the latest government data for the UK.
At its peak, at the start of the pandemic in April 2020, staff absence rates hit 6.2% for NHS England and 7.2% in London. This week, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warned that the region is “looking at a 10% staff absence rate in the NHS”.
The British Medical Association has said staff absences due to Covid-19 could reach 50,000 by Christmas Day.
Office for National Statistics figures published on Thursday showed an estimated one in 45 people in England, or more than 1.2-million in total, had Covid-19 in the week through December 16. That’s the highest on record. In London, the ratio was one in 30.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.