NHS chiefs said there had been a “worrying, high and rising increase” in staff absences – at a time the NHS was on a “war footing” in trying to get boosters to as many adults as possible to guard against Omicron.
Covid absences had peaked two days earlier, on Friday December 17, when a total of 4,105 staff at the capital’s 22 acute NHS trusts were unable to work.
The weekly figures, published by NHS England, indicate how the highly transmissible Omicron variant has ripped through the capital’s frontline health workforce – many of whom will have been triple jabbed - and helps to explain why Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident last Saturday.
Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS trust, which has been running some of the busiest vaccine clinics in the city, was the worst affected, with 515 Covid-related absences on Sunday.
King’s College hospitals, also in south London, had 515 staff absent on the same day, while Imperial College Healthcare, which runs St Mary’s, Charing Cross, Hammersmith and Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea hospitals, had 365 absences.
Great Ormond St hospital for children had 351 staff missing due to Covid on Sunday – five times the number a week earlier.
But the full extent of the Londonwide absences was worse when non-Covid issues were included – a total of 8,919 hospital staff were absent on Sunday, up more than 2,300 or 36 per cent on the same day a week earlier.
Across England, a total of 64,221 staff were absent on Sunday, up almost 13 per cent in a week. Of these, 18,829 were due to Covid.
NHS England said the total number of days lost due to Covid staff absence increased by 38 per cent in the week to December 19, compared with the week before – up from 90,277 to 124,855.
Over the week, it said the number of total staff absences increased by 10 per cent, from 416,995 to 457,135.
On average, 10,693 beds a day were taken up by patients who were fit to be discharged last week – up from 10,509 the previous week.
Hospitals had 93 per cent of adult general and acute beds occupied.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director in England, said: “The NHS is on a war footing and staff are taking the fight to Omicron, by boosting hundreds of thousands of people each day, treating thousands of seriously ill Covid patients and delivering urgent care for other conditions, all while seeing a worrying, high and rising increase in absence due to Covid.
“We are once again ramping up to deal with the rise in Covid infections, and quite rightly staff are making every possible preparation for the uncertain challenges of omicron, including recruiting thousands of nurses and reservists, but while we’ll leave no stone unturned to get the NHS battle ready, it remains the case that the best way to protect yourself and others is to follow guidance and to come forward and get your first, second and booster jabs.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “These figures show how Omicron is having a tangible real-time impact on a service that was already operating beyond full stretch, through increased staff absences.
“The pressures on hospitals, mental health, community and ambulance services are intense.
“The next few weeks will present a huge test for the NHS on many fronts – coping with Covid-19, handling emergencies, working on the backlog where possible, and delivering boosters.
“Once again, staff are being asked to go the extra mile, working flat out through the holiday period.”