THE NHS is in danger of being “swamped” by a deluge of new Covid-19 admissions, unions have warned at the start of the new year.
Yesterday 55,892 new cases were recorded, the highest ever in a 24-hour period, while the number of deaths rose by 964, the highest figure since April.
Public service union Unison said action was needed “to find ways of maintaining staff levels at swamped hospitals without burning out already overwhelmed NHS workers.”
The union has suggested recalling retired NHS workers to fill 87,000 vacancies which exist in the health service — including 40,000 nurses.
General union Unite said that the NHS is now “a system under siege” and urged its members in hospitals to speak out about what is happening in their workplaces.
Unite national officer for the health sector Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “From paramedic to porter, catering assistant to biomedical scientist, the system is under severe strain.
“Years of underfunding and chronic staff shortages have left the NHS badly ill-equipped to cope with what is now a rampant second strain of the virus.
“The mounting pressures are taking a heavy toll on an already exhausted workforce.
“To add to this appalling sense of siege, we are again receiving distressing reports about a lack of suitable PPE for staff treating highly infectious, sick patients and rising numbers of staff self-isolating or contracting Covid-19.
“Unite is calling on NHS staff to speak up about this. Let us know what PPE is needed and we will do all in our power to get the employers to get this to you with urgency.
“Our NHS staff are heroic, of that there is no doubt, but they are also exhausted, their mental health is suffering and morale is sinking.”
He expressed revulsion at the Tories’ handling of the pandemic.
“It is absolutely sickening that despite the cushy contracts and the cronies’ bank balances swollen with public money, overworked and underpaid NHS staff on the front line of this crisis are not getting the support and protection that they need.
“The worst of this wave has yet to be upon us. The government needs to get a grip, show leadership and act to do everything needed to protect front-line workers and the public.”
Unison said NHS staff are facing a “spiral of exhaustion” and are being “pushed to the brink.”
Assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Many staff are still exhausted from the first wave and are going through it all over again.
“There aren’t enough staff as it is, but they’re being called in to cover more and more hours.”
She said the NHS should call in retired doctors, nurses and other workers — as they did during the first pandemic crisis in April.
Campaign group Zero Covid, which wants a nationwide lockdown, is calling for test and trace work to be taken out of the hands of profiteers.
A group statement said: “The catastrophe we have been anticipating is unfolding more rapidly than we expected, with nearly 1,000 deaths yesterday alone.”
The group is to stage an online conference on the crisis on Saturday January 16.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Supporting the wellbeing of our health and care staff is a top priority.
“We are committed to expanding the NHS workforce and staff vacancies are falling, with over 13,000 more nurses and 6,000 more doctors compared to last year.
“We are investing £52bn this year and £20bn next year to help the health service fight coronavirus.” /Morningstar