COVID Absences Remain High Among NHS Staff but Show Signs of Reducing

Peter Russell

January 13, 2022

Nurses' leaders described the latest figures for NHS staff in England who were absent because of COVID-19 as "troublingly high", despite indications that the situation might be easing.

Overall, 40,031 staff at acute hospital trusts were absent due to SARS-CoV-2 on January 9, an increase of 2.3% a week previously, NHS England data showed.

However, the data suggests that absences because of COVID have fallen every day since reaching a peak of 49,941 on January 5.

On December 1, COVID absences stood at 12,508.

Regional Differences

The latest data shows regional differences in absenteeism due to COVID.

London saw the largest reduction, where 4167 staff had COVID or were having to isolate on January 9, compared with 4765 the previous week – a 12.5% fall.

The figures also show a similar pattern in English regions, with London leading the way with a 34% decrease in absences due to COVID between January 5-9.

However, COVID-related staff absences rose 19.6% in the Midlands over the same period, and 18.7% in the North West.

The total number of staff absent in England for all reasons stood at 80,824 on 9 Jan, down from a peak of 94,111 three days earlier.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the NHS remained under pressure.

Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England, commented: "The number of staff absent for COVID-related reasons remains troublingly high.

"At least 40,000 staff couldn’t work due to COVID-19 each day last week – rising to almost 50,000 on some days.

She called for better PPE protection for members. "Too many nursing staff are exposed to COVID-19 at work due to improper protection. Highest grade FFP3 masks and priority testing need to be provided as standard," she said.

Hospital Data

Meanwhile, the latest data on hospital referral to treatment waiting times in England, also published by NHS England, showed the number of people waiting stood at 6 million in November 2021, up from 5.98 million the previous month.

NHS England said that more than 1.4 million people started consultant-led treatment during November – the highest figure since before the pandemic in January 2019 when it was 1.5 million.

The percentage of people waiting more than a year for elective treatment based on clinical need fell by 1.8% in November compared with the previous month, it said

More than two million diagnostic tests were performed in November – the second highest ever for November and highest in a single month since before the pandemic.

NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said: "Omicron has increased the number of people in hospital with COVID at the same time as drastically reducing the number of staff who are able to work.

"Despite this, once again, NHS staff pulled out all the stops to keep services going for patients – there have been record numbers of life-threatening ambulance call outs, we have vaccinated thousands of people each day, and that is on top of delivering routine care and continuing to recover the backlog."

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