Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), told Sky News “we have never known this level of staff absence before”, adding: “Every winter of course, the NHS has additional pressures, but I don’t think anyone who’s worked in the NHS has experienced this level of absence of their colleagues and we’re feeling it in very real time because doctors and nurses and healthcare workers are having to cover for their absent colleagues – that’s adding additional, exceptional strain.”
He said although Omicron was milder, people were still falling seriously ill with Covid-19 and hospitals were dealing with the NHS treatment backlog, with almost six million people on the waiting list.
Asked how close the NHS was to being overwhelmed, he said: “I think that the words like overwhelmed, I mean, I think we should just look at the reality.
“The reality of the Army having been drafted in to London, the reality of 24 hospitals having declared critical incidents, the reality of having some hospitals having to cancel all their routine surgery, the reality of general practices having to cancel clinics on the day.
“I’m a GP, I’ve never known it this bad. We’re having to literally contact patients without notice that the staff member or a doctor or nurse just isn’t in today because they’re self-isolating.
“This is not normal, and therefore, the Government does need to recognise this is clearly an NHS under extreme pressure and the living reality sadly for thousands of patients is that they’re suffering the consequences of such pressures and also staff absence.”