In response to the ongoing difficulties regarding NHS staffing, the Ministry of Defence has provided 40 defence medics and 160 general duty personnel to work in the health service. These additional workers will be assisting with staff shortages for the next three weeks across London. More than 17 hospital trusts have declared a ‘critical incident’ due to high numbers of staff having to self-isolate due to COVID-19. The term ‘critical incident’ being used by trusts means they are struggling to provide priority services safely.
In addition to the London medical recruits, 32 military co-responders are being deployed to provide extra capacity to the South Central Ambulance Service, which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, and Oxfordshire, to work alongside paramedics. They are expected to be in place until the end of March.
According to the British Medical Journal, in the week ending 2 January an average of 80 294 NHS staff were absent each day. More than two fifths of these absence (35 596) were due to COVID, a 41% rise from the previous week (25 273 in the week to 26 December). London had the highest proportion of staff absences attributable to the virus, at more than half.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the armed forces “have shown their worth time and again throughout this pandemic, whether driving ambulances, administering vaccines or supporting patients in hospital, and they should be proud of their contribution to this truly national effort”.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said, “The NHS will take all the support it can get. However, the military are no substitute for frontline clinicians who are in desperately short supply, so we need to be realistic about how much of a difference this will make in London.”