Covid drives ‘spike in absences’ for NHS workers as staffing ‘crisis’ worsens

·2-min read
Staff on a hospital ward  (PA Archive)
Staff on a hospital ward (PA Archive)

Tens of thousands of NHS staff have been forced out of work each day in the last six months largely because of Covid, according to reports.

Some teams have been reportedly depleted by up to 50 percent, driven by Covid-induced absences, undermining efforts to tackle the backlog of patients needing to be treated and causing disruption.

According to data from employee wellbeing company GoodShape, shared with the Independent, 2,745,109 working days were lost between January and June because of Covid, costing the taxpayer £423m.

Over the same period in 2021, a total of 1,583,169 working days were lost, at a cost of £237m.

For NHS staff, around 547,664 periods of absence were recorded between January and June this year, according to the data.

This is a similar estimated number as for the whole of 2021.

It comes just days after a damning report found that the NHS was facing persistent understaffing, creating a serious risk to patient safety.

The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, chaired by former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, found services in England are facing “the greatest workforce crisis in their history”.

It found England is now short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives.

Dr Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University, told the publication that Covid, as well as mental ill health and general sickness, had reduced some teams by up to 50 percent in recent months.

“That’s across the board,” she said.

“So it could be an emergency department, it could be a district nursing team. All different types of services are being affected by it.

“When you have sickness that goes across all the services, you can’t easily redeploy people. You can’t really use that as a strategy.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told the Standard: “We hugely value and appreciate the dedication and contribution of NHS and social care staff.

“We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,300 more doctors, and 10,200 more nurses compared to last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice compared to March 2019.

“We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the Covid backlogs.”

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