Soldiers are being readied to help out at hospitals across the country as record Covid rates and staff absences heap pressure on services (Picture: File image by Paul Ellis/AFP)
The Army is being readied to provide more assistance to the NHS as the Covid surge heaps pressure on already embattled staff.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that it has further resources, including specialist medics, on standby to bolster the support it is already giving.
Twenty-five NHS trusts have now declared ‘critical incidents’ as rising hospital admissions and staff shortages threaten to overwhelm services.
As Omicron pushes Covid numbers to record levels, the number of patients needing hospital treatment has almost doubled in a week, while workforce levels plummet due to infections and self-isolation.
The MoD is already supporting public services in response to Covid, but has readied its specialists to ramp up the level of assistance.
A spokesperson said: ‘The MoD is working hard to identify where it can most effectively assist other government departments and civil authorities.
‘The Armed Forces have personnel including specialist planners, medics and logisticians ready to assist with the response to the outbreak.’
A source told Metro.co.uk that the military’s logistics operation was being readied to provide further assistance in London as the crisis intensifies.
The state of readiness came as the number of Covid patients in UK hospitals hit just under 18,000 – up from 10,000 on December 27.
Dr Ian Higginson, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told Metro.co.uk that staff absences and the rising admissions were highlighting existing gaps in the system.
Dr Higginson said: ‘The NHS for a number of years has been very poorly resourced, with poor workforce planning, and even at the best of times our hospitals would be working flat out at this time of year.
‘We often find difficulty getting patients into beds, which means our emergency departments get overcrowded and we see long ambulance waits. All of that impacts on the quality of care.
‘The current crisis highlights the existing vulnerabilities in the health service, putting a significant amount of additional pressure on the system.’
Military personnel practice loading and unloading a stretcher into an ambulance at Maindy Barracks in Cardiff (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
The emergency physician gave a stark assessment of the impact that the steep increases of Covid infection are having.
He said: ‘With the additional pressure of Covid it doesn’t take much to tip systems over. When you have a health service that is down to the bare bones to start with that’s going to have a pretty significant impact.
‘We are hearing that emergency departments that were already crowded before Omicron came are struggling even more because of beds being closed for infection control reasons, beds being occupied by patients with Covid or increased difficulty discharging patients to care homes because they are now closing due to Covid.
‘All of that plays into emergency departments and ambulance waits, and if you can’t staff hospitals because of absences, that makes it even worse.’
Dr Ian Higginson said that the NHS was already under-staffed before the current wave of Covid (Picture: Royal College of Emergency Medicine)
Dr Higginson added: ‘In the long-term, the government needs to have a good, hard look at how the urgent and emergency care system is resourced and staffed and acknowledge if we run a health service on fumes, it will have nothing left in the tank when it comes under additional pressure.’
NHS Providers Chief Executive Chris Hopson said this afternoon that trust chief executives have told him ‘this is the busiest day they have ever seen’.
He told Sky News: ‘The NHS is being stretched like never before. It’s a combination of three things happening at once.
‘First of all the number of Covid cases, particularly outside London, is rising very quickly. Secondly, we’re dealing with very significant numbers of staff absences and third, that is coming on top of a very, very busy period of non-Covid care. This week is usually the busiest in the NHS year. Add those three together and you are seeing huge, huge pressure.’
Ambulances line up outside the Royal London Hospital in London as the pressure on the NHS reaches critical levels (Picture: EPA)
The military currently has 1,600 personnel assisting with various tasks after Covid requests from civilian authorities.
Around 6,000 more can be called on for UK resilience tasks for agencies and organisations, including the NHS. These include supporting hospitals, vaccine centres and ambulance trusts.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid today thanked the ‘hardworking staff who are delivering excellent care for patients’.
In a tweet, he said: ‘More doctors and nurses in the NHS than ever before – 4,800 more doctors and 10,900 more nurses compared to last year.’
Boris Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday that the current Plan B measures, such as face coverings in indoor public spaces, will remain for another three weeks in order to ‘fortify our NHS and keep this country open’ as he ruled out another lockdown.
The Prime Minister said: ‘This government does not believe we need to shut down our country again. Instead we are taking a balanced approach, using the protection of the boosters and the Plan B measures to reduce the spread of the virus while acting to strengthen our NHS, protect critical national services and keep our supply chains open.
‘We are building on-site Nightingale Hospitals and creating 2,500 virtual beds to increase NHS capacity.
‘We have bought more anti-viral per person than anywhere else in Europe and we’re now working to identify those trusts which are most likely to need military support so that can be prepared now.’
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