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COVID-19: Warning of NHS staffing ‘catastrophe’ as one in three London workers could be off by January

A nursing leader has warned of a potentially “catastrophic” NHS staffing shortage in London, with new figures suggesting one in three workers could be off due to COVID at the end of the month.

Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s England director, reacted to the possibility of staff absence levels that were reported by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), amid the capital dealing with the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The strain is now the dominant coronavirus variant in London, which prompted mayor Sadiq Khan to declare a major incident this weekend.

Mr Khan has also shared his concerns about staff absences due to the infection spreading through the NHS, fire service and police.

The number of health care staff in London being off work due to COVID also more than doubled over the last four days, according to internal NHS monitoring figures seen by the HSJ.

The journal added that the current growth rate could result in one in three of the workforce potentially being absent by New Year’s Eve.

Ms Marquis said this scenario “would be catastrophic, there is no doubt about it”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend: “The workforce is already short, the workforce is already exhausted – mentally and physically – so the prospect of that just must fill everybody on the frontline, and the public, with real concern, because the NHS just has to be able to cope with emergency and urgent care in order for the public to feel safe.”

She added that staff were exhausted and the “prospect of not knowing what is happening just adds an extra layer of concern for people”.

Ms Marquis said: “Winter is difficult at the best of times.

“In the current situation, it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight, and that makes the situation sometimes feel even more hopeless than it might actually be.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, also said pressure had been “mounting rapidly” on London trusts, including hospitals, community mental health and ambulance trusts during the past week.

He told Times Radio: “The number of hospitalised COVID patients or patients who tested positive for COVID has gone up by 30% in a week, at a time when nationally it’s only gone up by 4%.”

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