Staff absences from the Omicron Covid variant leave utilities in a “perilous state,” a union leader said, amid grim new warnings about the variant’s impact on the NHS workforce.
Up to 40% of NHS staff in London could be absent due to the increase in Covid-19 infections in the “worst-case scenario” envisaged by experts, it emerged on Monday.
“We hope this is the worst-case scenario, but since we are already seeing an increase, I think it would not be unrealistic to expect it to increase significantly,” said Professor Alison Leary, president of health care and workforce modeling at University of the South Bank of London.
The absence rate in London rose by around 30%, according to the organization, which included people isolated due to positive tests, she told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.
Dr Ian Higginson, vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told the program that the number of staff absences in the NHS emergency departments could ‘push us over the edge’.
Serious staff shortages could also undermine efforts to keep pupils in schools, with school leaders in England saying they could be forced to send children home if they do not have enough staff .
Despite Boris Johnson’s pledge to avoid a repeat in January 2021, when the government insisted that schools remain open, only to be closed after a U-turn, school leaders warn that the spread Omicron’s rapidity could lead to staff absences when schools reopen.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the BBC that staff absences had been at “unsustainable” levels in some schools, with up to 25% of leave during the week. leading up to the Christmas holidays.
Staff shortages are also generally felt in other sectors such as transport, where rail operators operate reduced services and implement measures such as running longer trains.
The Rail Delivery Group, the The UK rail industry member body said that in the seven days leading up to Friday 24 December, on average 5.4% of trains were canceled, up from a annual average of 2.9%. More recent data is not yet available.
Local authorities are also concerned about staff absences, which are particularly serious in adult social services, children’s services and waste collection services. Its member body, the Local Government Association, said the councils feared existing staff shortages “could worsen”.
Staff shortages linked to Covid were already glaring when it comes to basic day-to-day services. Lewisham City Council in London tweeted on Monday that its reuse and recycling center was closed until Wednesday and that black bin collections would be prioritized if waste and recycling services were delayed.
Jon Richard, the deputy general secretary of Unison, whose 1.3 million members work mainly in the public services, told the Guardian: “The main health, counseling, care and police services have so many staff in leave that many fear not being able to continue.
“This is why additional measures to curb the spread of the virus are of the utmost importance in the coming weeks. Years of cutbacks have left services with just enough staff to manage in normal times. Now Omicron has put an end to this, leaving services in a perilous state. “
The National Council of Chiefs of Police said that he had continued to closely monitor absence rates within the police services, which did not currently affect the ability of the forces to provide their normal service to the public.
Lucy Moreton, a professional officer with the Immigration Services Union, said that Covid-related absences in frontline services were on the increase, but added that this was also accompanied by absences unrelated to Covid, in particular work-related stress.