Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the board of the British Medical Association (BMA), told Sky News “we have never experienced this level of staff absence before,” adding: “Every winter, of course, the NHS goes through extra pressures but I don’t think anyone who has worked in the NHS has experienced this level of absence from their colleagues and we feel it in very real time because doctors, nurses and healthcare workers have to cover their absent colleagues – this adds exceptional extra pressure. “
He said even though Omicron was gentler, people were still getting seriously ill with Covid-19 and hospitals were facing the NHS treatment backlog, with nearly six million people on the waiting list.
When asked how close the NHS was to being overwhelmed, he said: ‘I think words like overwhelmed, I mean I think we should just look at the reality.
“The reality of the army having been drafted in London, the reality of 24 hospitals having declared critical incidents, the reality of having some hospitals having to cancel all their routine surgeries, the reality of general practices having to cancel clinics the same day.
“I am a general practitioner, I have never known him so badly. We literally have to contact patients without warning that the staff member or a doctor or a nurse is just not there today because they are ‘self-isolate.
“This is not normal, and therefore the government must recognize that this is clearly an NHS under extreme pressure and that the living reality, sadly for thousands of patients, is that they are suffering from the consequences of such pressures and also of the absence of staff. “