On January 6th 2022, the NHS Confederation released a statement detailing a ‘staffing crisis’ in the NHS due to Covid-19 and urged the government to take further steps to ‘alleviate the mounting pressure on front-line services.’
The Confederation represents the whole healthcare system in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor said that it’s clear that the NHS is facing a ‘staffing crisis,’ with a number of hospitals telling the Confederation that they have around 10% of their staff in self-isolation or on sick leave. Taylor explained: ‘This is pushing up the ratio of staff to patients to levels hospitals are extremely concerned about.’
One of the main steps the Confederation is calling on the government to take to support the NHS through January and beyond is to deploy students as a short-term measure to help alleviate pressure on hospitals and other services. This approach was taken last winter, and the Confederation says:
‘Medical students and trainees should be redeployed onto wards and other healthcare settings to support teams in the face of mounting absence and make sure there are enough people to care for patients.’
Other changes the Confederation are asking the government to implement include prioritising access to lateral flow and PCR tests for key workers (including NHS and social care staff) and continuing to review the self-isolation period to see if it is feasible to halve the period from 10 to five days as they have done in the US and France.
According to Taylor’s statement, several hospitals have had to declare a critical incident because of widespread staff shortages and rising admissions. He said: ‘The Prime Minister’s attempts to reassure the public that the NHS is not being overwhelmed will not chime with the experience of staff working in some parts of the NHS.’
Last year, thousands of medical students around the country were deployed to the frontlines. Abbi Bow, a second year student at the University of Bristol, was only 19 when she started work in a hospital on the Covid frontline.
Speaking about her experience in February 2021, Bow told The Guardian: ‘It’s sometimes difficult. You wake up and it’s Groundhog Day. We’re not seeing friends and family or going out for dinner or the gym, doing the things we love. It’s good to hold on to the idea we will be able to do these things in the future. Once we can, I think we’ll cherish them more.’