One in 10 doctors off work with COVID-19 and other issues, poll reveals

One in 10 doctors are currently off work, a Royal College of Physicians (RCP) survey reveals - with rising COVID-19 cases exacerbating existing NHS staff absences.

Pile of lateral flow tests
Lateral flow tests (Photo: Emma Farrer/Getty Images)

The opinion poll - completed by almost 2,000 clinicians UK-wide - found that 10.5% are off work, with 4.2% off work because of COVID-19. These figures were higher in London with 13.9% missing from work, and 7.4% - or one in 13 - off due to COVID-19.

Of those absent from work, 18% had suspected or proven COVID-19 and 19% were isolating due to having contact with cases. A total of 14.5% of all respondents said they did not have the PPE they needed to wear for managing COVID-19 patients - and 6.5% did not have access to full PPE in the last fortnight.

The findings come as BMA estimates suggest that up to 16,000 general practice staff could be off work with COVID-19 by Christmas Day in England - stripping nearly three people from each practice on average.

NHS staff absence

BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel has warned that staff shortages in general practice could derail the booster campaign and are a 'canary in the mine' that shows urgent measures are needed to slow the pandemic.

The RCP survey found that almost all UK doctors were protected by a COVID-19 vaccination - 99% had been double jabbed, while 96% had received a booster - and 2% had arranged to have it. Those behind it explained that the high absence rate among doctors was likely to be down to high community levels of infection and the rapid transmission of the Omicron variant.

But the college said much of the pressure on medical staff was due to a lack of workforce - a problem that existed long before the pandemic. It has urged the government to commit to a funded long-term workforce plan.

RCP president Andrew Goddard, said: ‘With one in 24 doctors off work due to COVID-19, rising to one in 13 in London, absence is the worst we have seen during the pandemic other than at the end of March 2020. But at that point…it was spring and we were dealing with a less transmissible strain of COVID-19.

Tired workforce

‘Today, we have a tired and demoralised workforce that has been managing the impact of the pandemic for almost two years, we are trying to deliver as much non-COVID care as possible and we have the usual winter rise in other respiratory conditions. At the same time, many colleagues are taking well-earned holidays to spend some time with their families and friends over Christmas.

‘We urge everyone to arrange to have their vaccinations and boosters as soon as possible. And while we are all looking forward to time with loved ones this year, we need to think very carefully about the number of people we mix with over the next couple of weeks…if we aren’t cautious, we risk the number of available health and care staff falling to very dangerous levels.’

GPonline reported this week that one practice was forced to warn patients that telephone access may take longer than usual because half its reception staff were off work with COVID-19 infections, while another had to close one of its sites - others said services would be reduced faster than expected.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has also warned that the NHS could struggle to cope this winter as Omicron drives a huge spike in staff absences - saying a ‘very significant number’ could be off.

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