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COVID-19: no let up as staff absences shoot up in just two weeks

Absences related to the virus shot up by nearly 60%, according to NHS England figures

Pressure on nursing staff in every region as absences related to the virus have shot up by nearly 60%, according to the latest NHS England figures

A steep rise in the number of staff off work due to COVID-19 shows pressure on nursing staff ‘refuses to let up’, the RCN has warned.

The latest figures from NHS England show staff absences related to the virus shot up by nearly 60% in just two weeks.

The sharp rise raises the prospect of nurses again being asked to cancel leave as trusts struggle to cope with staff shortages. When staff absences were at their peak in

Pressure on nursing staff in every region as absences related to the virus have shot up by nearly 60%, according to the latest NHS England figures

Pressure on nursing staff in every region as absences related to the virus have shot up by nearly 60%, according to NHS England figures
Picture: iStock

A steep rise in the number of staff off work due to COVID-19 shows pressure on nursing staff ‘refuses to let up’, the RCN has warned.

The latest figures from NHS England show staff absences related to the virus shot up by nearly 60% in just two weeks.

The sharp rise raises the prospect of nurses again being asked to cancel leave as trusts struggle to cope with staff shortages. When staff absences were at their peak in January this year, nurses were asked to cancel leave and come in on their days off to plug gaps in rotas.

Significantly depleted nursing workforce undermining safe, effective care, says RCN

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said the figures showed ‘pressure on nursing staff in every region refuses to let up’.

‘With a significantly depleted workforce undermining their attempts to provide safe and effective care, these absences are the last thing nursing staff need,’ she said.

On 22 March there were 22,323 NHS staff in England off work for COVID-19 related reasons. This is up 59.8% on the 13,968 absent on 6 March.

The data shows coronavirus-related absences have been creeping up since the end of February shortly after COVID-19 restrictions in England came to an end on 24 February.

However, they are still some way off the peak in COVID absences in the first week of January when nearly 50,000 staff were off work and trusts were asking workers to cancel leave to plug staffing gaps.

Rise in absences as free universal COVID-19 testing due to end on 1 April

The RCN has previously made it clear that nurses should not be asked to cancel leave a result of staff absences. Guidance from the RCN states that it ‘may not be reasonable’ for employers to issue a blanket ban on annual leave and any cancellation should only be in exceptional circumstances or with a local agreement in place.

The increase in staff absences comes as free universal COVID-19 testing is due to end next week with uncertainty about whether NHS workers will be expected to pay for tests.

Health leaders have warned it could cost front-line nurses – who are expected to test themselves twice a week – as much as £50 per month if they are made to pay for tests out of their own pocket.

The government has promised it will publish more details on testing policy soon.


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