The NHS is facing a facing a staffing crisis as more than 46,000 health care workers are currently sick with coronavirus, a leading doctor has warned.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, said health service workers needed to be vaccinated “immediately” to protect the standard of care.
“It’s a really serious problem that we have got acute workforce shortages,” he told Sky News.
“In some hospitals now, the staff to patient ratio is such that nurses in intensive care units, for example, are being asked to care for more patients than is actually officially recommended.
“We know that there are reports that there are about 46,000-plus are now sick with COVID. That is having a real impact on our ability to provide services.”
Dr Nagpaul added that the rate at which NHS staff were being infected “could jeapordise the vaccination programme”.
“There are many examples of doctors and nurses and other staff whose shifts have been cancelled when they are due to vaccinate patients because they have tested positive for COVID or become ill,” Dr Nagpaul continued.
He called for healthcare workers to be vaccinated “as a priority” within the next two weeks in order to prevent further staff absences.
Dr Nagpaul concluded: “If we see more staff falling ill it will have a direct impact on care it will be patients who suffer.”
It comes as health secretary Matt Hancock warned that "the pressure on the NHS is very, very bad" as he urged people to stick to the lockdown rules.
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He told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: "The single biggest thing that anybody can do is to follow the stay at home guidance.
"There are limited exemptions. Only if you can't work from home and if you need to go out and get shopping or take some exercise.
"But these are highly-limited for a good reason and that's because the pressure on the NHS is very, very bad and we need to bring the case rate right down.
"So it's on all of us really, it always has been a big team effort."
The number of patients with COVID in hospital is at a record high in England, while the official coronavirus death toll for the UK passed 80,000 on Saturday and lab-confirmed cases hit more than three million.
England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned on Sunday that the NHS faces the "most dangerous situation" in living memory as cases continue to rise.
"Hospitals are always busy in winter, but the NHS in some parts of the country is currently facing the most dangerous situation anyone can remember," Prof Whitty wrote in The Sunday Times.
"If the virus continues on this trajectory, hospitals will be in real difficulties, and soon.
"Staff-to-patient ratios - already stretched - will become unacceptable even in intensive care."