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England hospital staff absences double as virus surges

LONDON (AFP) – Hospital staff absences due to COVID have more than doubled in a month in England as the virus surge puts strain on beds, according to data published on Friday.

The number of hospital staff ill or self-isolating due to the virus rose from 11,375 on November 29, 2021 to 24,362 on December 26, 2021 NHS England said.

The “sharply increasing staff absences” coincide with “a 10-month high for the number of patients”, warned national medical director Stephen Powis.

The number of patients in hospital with COVID in the United Kingdom (UK) reached 11,898 on Wednesday, the highest level since early March, and a rise of 40 per cent in a week.

“We don’t yet know the full scale of rising omicron cases,” Powis acknowledged.

A member of a construction team works on the erection of a temporary field hospital in the grounds of St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London. PHOTO: AFP

The National Health Service (NHS) “is on a war footing and staff remain braced for the worst”, he added.

The UK is one of Europe’s worst-hit countries with a death toll of 148,421. It reported 189, 846 new cases on Friday, slightly above Thursday’s figure and a new record.

NHS England reported that only 67 per cent of COVID patients were receiving treatment primarily for the virus, however, with others testing positive after being admitted with other conditions.

NHS England has already started building temporary field hospitals to contain a possible overspill of inpatients if beds in main hospitals become full.

It plans to make available as many as 4,000 “super-surge beds”, in some cases using existing hospital facilities such as gyms or education centres.

It is also trying to free up hospital beds by sending medically fit patients to care homes, hospices and even hotels.

Despite the surge in cases, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has opted not to increase virus curbs over the festive period in England, unlike the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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