Covid-19: One in four doctors off sick or in isolation

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

Around one in four NHS doctors are off work sick or in isolation, the head of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has said, as a leading expert revealed there were signs of a slowdown in Covid-19 hospital admissions.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said that about 25% of the doctor workforce is off, either with coronavirus or because a family member or housemate is ill.

"At the moment, we think it’s more doctors self-isolating with family members, though there are some off sick themselves," he said.

"This is really impacting a lot in emergency departments and London is in a much worse position than elsewhere at the moment, but it will come to other places. Birmingham is also struggling."

Professor Goddard's comments comes as nurses on some Covid wards are being put at risk by caring for patients without any protective equipment, leading nurses have said.

The RCN is calling for more personal protective equipment for frontline nurses. Credit: PA Graphics

NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens said staff absence makes it all the more important for the public to adhere to the medical advice and stay at home.

"NHS staff are affected just like people across the country as a whole and so we are seeing staff who are doing the right thing of having to self-isolate at home," he said, speaking from the newly made Nightingale Hospital in London.

"That's one of the reasons why it's so important that we are ramping up staff testing, but it's also vital that all of us take the medical advice and stay at home.

"That will reduce the infections and reduce the needs for services such as this new Nightingale Hospital.

He added that testing for staff will be doubled by the end of this week.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) was putting frontline nurses at risk.

The union said that it is “unacceptable” that weeks into the crisis some nurses are yet to be provided with the necessary PPE.

It has called for minimum basic levels of PPE to be rolled out for staff in all settings - hospitals, care homes, or in the community - but it said that this is "yet" to be provided.

Prof Goddard said hospital wards across England “are going from normal wards to Covid wards very quickly”.

Asked about the pressure on intensive care units, Prof Goddard said: "Some hospitals are really at the limit. Within London it’s very, very difficult at the moment, you can’t underestimate how difficult it is."

Almost 11,000 coronavirus tests a day can now be carried out. Credit: PA

He said it was unclear whether the 25% off work would be a "rolling number" or whether it could ease as testing of NHS staff increases and people come out of isolation.

"Of course, the worry is we will lose more people to Covid-related illness," he added.

It comes after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said on Sunday that around one in five nurses had taken time off work to self-isolate.

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Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: "The Government is finally prioritising Covid-19 testing for NHS staff, including social care, but it is completely unacceptable that weeks into this crisis, there are colleagues in all settings - hospitals, community or care homes - who have not been provided with personal protective equipment.

"I am hearing from nurses who are treating patients in Covid-19 wards without any protection at all. This cannot continue. They are putting themselves, their families, and their patients at risk," she added.

Meanwhile, Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London and author of a report which warned of mass deaths if the UK did not introduce strict controls, said there were signs the rate of hospital admissions was slowing.

A breathing aid that can help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care has been developed by mechanical engineers.

On Monday, University College London (UCL) announced a breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care has been developed by mechanical engineers, medics and the Mercedes Formula One team.

The device, known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help coronavirus patients and bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and the need for full ventilation.

The device has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and could be rolled out to UK hospitals.

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