Some 30,000 National Health Service (NHS) staff, including many nurses and doctors working in the UK Health Service, are currently unemployed because of COVID-19.
The head of the NHS England, Sir Simon Stevens, said at a press conference at 10 Downing Street that the spread of the virus in the community affects health workers as much as anyone else.
Asked how he intends to ensure that health services are able to provide care during the winter months when hospitals are historically overloaded, he said: “We will ensure that as many nurses as possible can work in places where communities are affected by the spread of the virus, i.e. where staff are often affected or have to isolate themselves.
“We currently have around 30,000 NHS staff infected with the corona virus or who need to isolate themselves. So our success in containing the transmission of the COVID virus in communities is also a force multiplier for what the NHS can deliver in terms of care.
This figure is an increase of 10,000 staff who were reported absent due to COVID in early October when, according to an Independent report by the NHS England, 20,000 people were unable to work because of illness from the virus or self-isolation.
Doctors and nurses working in NHS intensive care units have repeatedly warned of their fears that COVID wards would be short of staff during the busiest period of the health service. Stevens informed the public along with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who confirmed that a further 492 people have died of COVID in the UK in the last 24 hours.
Johnson insisted that a month-long lockdown across England – which came into effect on Thursday – would be long enough to “really affect” the spread of the virus. Experts have expressed doubts that four weeks of measures, due to end on December 2, will be sufficient, given fears that an extension or third national lockdown may be necessary.
Johnson told the country: “There is light at the end of the tunnel” and said people could expect “as normal a Christmas as possible”.
Stevens said there are currently 11,000 COVID patients in hospitals, compared to 3,000 patients who would normally be hospitalized in one day during a very bad winter flu season and about 7,000 patients who would be hospitalized for cancer.