COVID-19 absences could slash 16,000 staff from GP practices by Christmas

Almost 16,000 general practice staff could be off sick with COVID-19 by Christmas Day, GPonline analysis of BMA statistics shows.

GP practices face staff absences (Photo: mtreasure/Getty Images)

BMA estimates suggest that in a worst-case scenario around 132,000 NHS staff - around 8.5% of the total workforce including primary care - could be absent from work with COVID-19 by 25 December, having tested positive in the 10 days before. In the best-case scenario, 32,000 NHS staff could be off work with COVID-19.

In general practice, around 15,972 staff could be off sick with COVID-19 by Christmas Day in the worst-case estimate, or around 3,872 in the best-case scenario.

GPs in parts of the country are already warning that practice teams have been hit by a wave of COVID-19 cases - preventing them from delivering booster jabs and threatening routine patient care.

COVID staff absences

Last week, England’s chief medical officer warned that a ‘very significant’ number of NHS workers would be absent from work amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, with the UK reporting record numbers of confirmed cases in recent days.

GPs said on Twitter that a wave of staff absences were already having a major impact. One family doctor said their practice had five team members off work, while another said it was affecting their booster campaign.

Amid increasing staff sickness, the BMA has urged the government to introduce further measures to ‘stem the spread of the virus’, including reducing levels of social contact, and has warned extreme workforce shortages would ‘severely limit the NHS’ ability to guarantee patient care.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘These stark figures on levels of NHS staff absence show the devastating consequences of what could happen if the virus is left to continue spreading at the current rate.

‘Amid the surging case-rate, driven by the hugely transmissible Omicron variant, doctors are not only incredibly worried about the potential impact this could have on hospitalisations, but also about what it would mean for patient care across the NHS if we have vast swathes of staff off sick with the virus.

‘We’re already seeing services being affected by staff absences, and these estimates show it could get far, far worse. Without enough staff, appointments and treatments will need to be cancelled or postponed, and waits for care in both GP surgeries and hospitals will rise even further, compromising the level of care remaining staff can offer. This is not to mention the impact it could have on the NHS’s capacity to deliver the booster programme itself.

Health services impacted

‘If our estimates of staff absence are realised – which we honestly hope they are not – this would be truly devastating, leading to an inability to provide even some of the most urgent services.’

Dr Nagpaul urged the government to take urgent 'targeted action' - warning that cases could soon make a lockdown the only option.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel suggested on social media that it was already ‘too late’ to implement tougher measures, warning the NHS was in ‘freefall’.

NHS clinicians were told this week that they will no longer be required to self-isolate for 10 days if they are in contact with an Omicron case, after the UK Health Security Agency updated its guidance.

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