London, Jan 7 (PTI) The UK’s Armed Forces have sent 200 personnel into National Health Service (NHS) hospitals across London as major incidents were declared on Friday due to staff shortages as a result of a continued surge in COVID-19 cases.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it will provide 40 defence medics and 160 general duty personnel for the next three weeks to assist with the crisis.
These military medics will assist NHS doctors and nurses with patient care, while general duty personnel will help fill gaps caused by other absences as the UK’s daily COVID infections maintained a high trend at 179,756, driven by the Omicron variant.
“The men and women of our Armed Forces are once again stepping up to support their dedicated colleagues in the NHS, as they work hand-in-hand to protect the nation from COVID-19,” said UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
Across the UK, about 1,800 armed forces personnel are supporting the NHS response to the pandemic. The MoD said that more than 1,000 servicemen and women have also already been made available to support the vaccine booster programme, including 730 in England, 221 in Scotland and 98 in Wales.
“Our brilliant armed forces have supported the country throughout the pandemic, bolstering the teams at testing sites, vaccination centres and hospitals. Once again, they are stepping up to assist NHS workers who are working round the clock across the capital, helping the health service through this difficult winter period where the need is greatest,” added UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
The UK’s Royal College of Nursing has said the deployment means the government can no longer deny there is a “staffing crisis” within the NHS.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the Indian-origin council chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), said “we have never known this level of staff absence before” and the pressures facing the health service and general practitioners (GPs) “is not normal”.
Latest figures from NHS England show that 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent because of COVID on January 2, an increase of 59 per cent on the week before (24,632) and more than three times the level it was at the start of December 2021.
Around 17 hospital trusts in England had declared critical incidents – signalling there are fears that priority services cannot be safely delivered.
Two major incidents have also been declared in England with emergency services saying there is a civil emergency in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. This means multiple agencies including the NHS, Fire and Rescue Service, police and local authorities will step up coordination of their response to the surging infections and key workers needing to isolate.
Northamptonshire has also declared a system-wide major incident, with hospitals, care homes and emergency services subject to a shortage of staff and facing increased demand because of coronavirus, Northamptonshire Police said.
Some of the hardest-hit hospitals in the UK are in the north of England now even as London, previously the epicentre of the Omicron wave, starts to recover somewhat with staff absences declining slightly. PTI AK MRJ MRJ
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