Published: 05:00, 08 January 2022
| Updated: 07:46, 08 January 2022
Kent hospital trusts have seen a staggering rise in staff being forced off work due to Covid with half of all absences now because of the virus.
In the space of a month, Covid-related absences have increased by 181% with the latest data showing far more staff are falling sick or isolating than in early December.
Cess Wigley from the Royal College of Nursing says staff are getting "overwhelmed and upset"
On December 2, NHS figures show 1,082 employees from Kent's four acute hospital trusts – Medway, East Kent, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and Dartford and Gravesham – were off work and of those 223 (20.6%) were due to Covid.
Fast forward to January 2 – the latest date figures are available for – and the total number of staff off work jumped to 1,273.
But it is the number of Covid-related absences which has been the biggest change and it currently stands at 627 (49.2%) – almost triple what it was at the start of December.
The rate has steadily increased in recent weeks with data from December 17 showing a small rise to 364 (30%) of Kent's 1,212 hospital staff who were absent from work isolating or sick from Covid compared to the start of the month.
Doctors are now warning of the NHS being put into a "perilous state" which will lead to delays in care for millions of patients nationwide.
The head of the British Medical Association (BMA) said two-thirds of doctors said the Omicron wave is causing a dramatic slowdown in providing non-urgent medical treatment.
It comes as the military was brought in by the government to provide "a sticking plaster" for the NHS to be able to cope as Covid patients and regular winter pressures on hospitals take hold.
Cess Wigley from the Royal College of Nursing told KentOnline health staff are getting "overwhelmed and upset".
"Once you're in front of the patient you're putting your game face on and doing the best you can," she said.
"But once you're away people are getting upset and feeling they can't give the care they would like to.
"They're exhausted, they're burning out and getting run down and working flat out trying to compensate for those that aren't there."
A survey by the BMA found one in five doctors had been isolating in the past two weeks.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “The Prime Minister is wrong to ask that the NHS ‘just get through it’. This survey shows that Omicron is battering our health service, forcing staff off sick, resulting in untold suffering for patients as a result.
“It is troubling that despite the infectiousness of the Omicron variant, almost half of doctors said that when working in red zones they were not provided with respirator masks which can filtrate airborne viral particles.
"This places them at an unacceptable risk of infection when we cannot afford further staff absences.
“We currently have a record-breaking waiting list stretching to almost six million – these are real people in distress, 312,000 of whom have been already waiting more than 12 months.
"As doctors, it is our job to provide the care they need and it’s incredibly distressing when we can’t do that, with the risk that many patients’ health will deteriorate as they wait.
“We need a thorough plan from government for how to tackle the backlog with funding to match, as was highlighted only this week by the cross-party Health and Social Care Select Committee.
"Ultimately it is clear that the rate of infection must be brought down to reduce staff absence and the devastating impact of Covid on the health service."
In Kent, the hospital trust which saw the highest increase of staff absent during December was Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust – which runs Darent Valley Hospital.
The numbers increased from 15.9% off due to Covid on December 2 compared to 55.2% (157 staff out of 284 off) on January 2 due to a Covid-related issue.
Medway NHS Trust also has 55% absence due to Covid with 172 of its 311 absences.
There have been similar increases at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust where 45.9% (147) of its staff are off due to Covid, up from 66 (24.3%) on December 2.
Despite absences falling at East Kent Hospitals (402 to 358 between December 2 and January 2), the county's largest trust saw its proportion of those off because of Covid also more than double from 17.6% to 42.1%.