NHS trusts could start cancelling operations next week if Covid hospitalisations escalate significantly, hospital chiefs have warned.
Modelling shown to ministers suggests that hospital admissions are doubling every 16 days – and could peak in the middle of January, according to the Telegraph.
However, the Government has rejected calls to reduce the isolation period for Covid sufferers from seven to five days because up to 30 per cent would still be infectious.
The latest figures show 2,370 Covid admissions a day in England. Another doubling could exceed the peak reached last January, when there were 4,134 daily admissions.
England’s Covid cases breached 160,000 for the second time in as many days on Saturday, official statistics showed as ministers continued to avoid enforcing new restrictions.
UK Health Security Agency data shows there were 162,572 new infections over the last 24 hours, an increase of 33 per cent on the number recorded on Christmas Day when there were 121,880. It is the highest total reported on a day in England ever, with 160,276 cases recorded yesterday.
Meanwhile, just one in 40 NHS hospital staff were unavailable to work because of Covid late last month, official figures show.
NHS trusts could start cancelling operations next week if Covid hospitalisations escalate significantly, hospital chiefs have warned. Modelling shown to ministers suggests that hospital admissions are doubling every 16 days – and could peak in the middle of January (Pictured: An NHS health worker at a pop-up vaccination centre at Redbridge Town Hall, east London on December 25)
Ministers say no to five-day Covid isolation
By STEPHEN ADAMS for the Mail on Sunday
Ministers have rejected calls to reduce the isolation period for Covid sufferers from seven to five days because up to 30 per cent would still be infectious.
Business leaders and some Tory MPs had urged Ministers to follow the lead of other countries, including the US and Greece, by cutting self-isolation for those showing no symptoms to five days.
But a Government source told The Mail on Sunday that, while the option was discussed, it was rejected because so many people could still go on to infect others if released from self-isolation that early.
It comes amid growing concern that lengthy self-isolation is harming vital services and the economy – and with a growing row over the lack of access to lateral flow tests (LFTs).
As millions prepared to return to work after the festive break, Labour accused the Government of failing to order sufficient numbers of LFTs, which are increasingly seen as essential to keep the country moving while minimising the threat from Omicron.
Ministers insist hundreds of millions more LFTs will soon be available.
Just before Christmas, self-isolation was reduced from ten to seven days as long as the individual is negative for Covid on two LFTs – the first on day six and the second on day seven.
Asked about the proposal for a further cut to five days, the Government source said: ‘The data we have is that almost one in three people could still be infectious five days after testing positive with Omicron. It isn’t thought it would be safe to cut self-isolation that far.’
Recent media reports have been saturated with warnings that hospital services could collapse because so many staff are either off sick with the virus or having to self- isolate because of it.
NHS England’s medical director Professor Stephen Powis last week talked of the health service being on a ‘war footing’, a phrase since frequently repeated by broadcasters.
But while official figures show the number off with Covid did double in the run-up to Christmas, the virus has prevented only a small fraction of hospital staff from working.
On December 1, 12,508 staff at English hospitals were absent due to Covid-19 ‘either through sickness or self- isolation’, according to data from NHS England.
By Boxing Day, the latest day for which figures are available, that had almost doubled to 24,632.
But with 983,000 working in NHS hospitals in England, according to official workforce statistics for 2021, it means that only 2.5 per cent of the workforce – or one in 40 – were off due to Covid towards the end of the month.
Meanwhile, non-Covid sickness absences actually fell over the same period, from 47,628 on December 1 to 43,450 on Boxing Day.
As a result, overall sickness-related absences among NHS hospital staff only rose by 13 per cent in December – from 60,136 on the first of the month to 68,082 on December 26.
Consequently, around 93 per cent of hospital staff were still fit and healthy from a work point of view at Christmas.
However, the picture is varied between England’s 138 NHS hospital trusts.
Five reported overall sickness or self-isolation absences exceeding ten per cent on Boxing Day – Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (12.2 per cent), Nottingham University Hospitals (12 per cent), Wirral University Teaching Hospitals (10.9 per cent), Warrington and Halton Hospitals (10.8 per cent) and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (10.1 per cent).
All had higher than average Covid-related absences.
Taking Covid-related absences alone, three had rates of over five per cent on Boxing Day – Homerton University Hospital in London (7.1 per cent), Royal United Hospitals Bath (6.9 per cent) and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (6.7 per cent).
But nine reported Covid-related absences of less than one per cent of their workforce on December 26.
Meanwhile, the Times reported that more than 110,000 of all NHS staff – nearly one in 10 – were absent on New Year’s Eve, of whom 50,000 were at home sick or self-isolating.
Around 93 per cent of hospital staff were still fit and healthy from a work point of view at Christmas (Pictured: An NHS worker administers a Covid jab on Christmas Day)