NHS workers took average of 14 DAYS off sick every year BEFORE Covid

NHS workers took average of 14 DAYS off sick every year BEFORE Covid struck – as it is revealed staff at ‘critical incident’ hospital trusts are STILL allowed to take holiday despite being on ‘war footing’

  • Average NHS worker took 14 days sick per year compared to 4 in private sector
  • Most common illnesses pre-Covid were mental health problems and bad backs  
  • New data shows that majority of NHS staff remain off sick for non-Covid reasons
  • Trusts declaring ‘critical incidents’ are still allowing staff to go on holiday
  • One hospital in crisis had four people off with Covid on Boxing Day, figures show 

NHS staff took more than three times as many sick days as the average worker even before the pandemic struck – with stress, anxiety and depression blamed for a third of all absences, official figures revealed today.

Health service data shows there were 17.7million days of leave taken between April 2018 and March 2019 – the equivalent of around 14 days per worker – mainly for mental health problems or muscle and back pain. 

But the average Briton took off just 4.2 days over roughly the same period, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Overall NHS absence in England peaked at the start of the pandemic and sick days were highest among support staff – and the lowest among doctors. One in ten NHS staff are currently off sick or self-isolating – but some hospitals have higher rates.

MailOnline can also reveal that staff working at the NHS trusts currently cancelling all non-urgent operations and appointments due to Omicron are still allowing employees to go on holiday while on a ‘war footing’, according to Boris Johnson.

The United Lincolnshire NHS Trust and the Great Western NHS Foundation Trust have admitted that they have no ban on annual leave despite declaring ‘critical incidents’.

And on Boxing Day, two days before the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust declared a critical incident, just four of their 7,400 staff were registered as off sick with Covid or self-isolating, NHS England’s latest data shows. But a further 312 staff were not at work due with other illnesses such as common winter bugs and stress.

Some 11 out of 137 hospital trusts in England have declared ‘critical incidents’ in recent days, signalling that they may struggle to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks because so many medics are off isolating. Seventeen hospitals in Greater Manchester have also started shelving operations.

At the same time, the number of Covid-infected patients being hospitalised is rising.

NHS staff take three times as much time off sick as office workers with the peak at the start of the pandemic, which has not been reached since then

MailOnline can also reveal that staff working at the NHS trusts currently cancelling all non-urgent operations and appointments due to Omicron are still allowing staff to go on holiday

Mental health illnesses accounted for the most sick days followed by muscle and back problems

Staff absence figures are based on NHS Digital data which suggests there were 1.2million staff working for the health service in England. They took off 19.6million days in the year to March 2020, while there were 21.2million absent days in the year to March 2021.

England’s ‘critical’ NHS trusts


All sickness absences Boxing Day: 316

Covid related absences Boxing Day: 70 

Holiday ban? No


All sickness absences Boxing Day: 643

Covid related absences Boxing Day: 150 

Holiday ban? No


All sickness absences Boxing Day: 150

Covid related absences Boxing Day: 47 

Holiday ban? Yet to respond 


All sickness absences Boxing Day: 772

Covid related absences: 340 

Holiday ban? Yet to respond


All sickness absences Boxing Day: 584

Covid related absences Boxing Day: 171 

Holiday ban? Yet to respond


All sickness absences Boxing Day: 552

Covid related absences Boxing Day: 127 

Holiday ban? Yet to respond 


All sickness absences Boxing Day: 312

Covid related absences Boxing Day: 4  

Holiday ban? Yet to respond

Separate statistics show around 1.4million people currently work for the health service, suggesting the average number of sick days would be slightly lower – but still much higher than the national average.

Nearly a third of missed days among health staff in the most recent year were down to mental health problems — including anxiety, stress and depression.

NHS bosses have warned that pressures on staff due to working through back-to-back Covid waves had harmed wellbeing.

Musculoskeletal problems, such as muscle, nerve and joint pain, were behind around nine per cent of days off.

One in 16 days off were due to stomach problems, while infectious illnesses, back problems, respiratory problems and colds and the flu each caused around five per cent of absences.

The figures cover clinical workers such as doctors, nurses and ambulance staff, as well as support staff. And they also include non-working days. 

At least seven trusts running more than a dozen major hospitals have also gone critical – but their own sickness data shows that in all cases the majority of their staff off work over Christmas do not have Covid-related illnesses. 

And NHS England figures show across the country the vast majority of doctors, nurses and general staff currently off sick do not have coronavirus.

On Boxing Day 2021, 68,082 NHS staff in England were absent from work due to illness – but 24,632 of those were due to a positive Covid test or the need to self-isolate.

But on the same day in 2020, 80,592 NHS staff in England were off sick – with 32,613 of those people off with Covid-related absence. 

And at the start of the pandemic the situation was even worse, with 105,000 NHS staff off sick – 81,000 of them with Covid or forced into quarantine.     

One in ten NHS staff are off sick or self-isolating. Some hospitals have higher rates, although it has been estimated that Covid amounts to five in every ten absences.

Bosses claim the shortages are making it ‘almost impossible’ to maintain basic patient care.

An ambulance trust yesterday asked patients with heart attacks and strokes to get a lift to hospital because it did not have enough fit paramedics.

The North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust said call handlers should ‘consider asking the patient to be transported by friends or family’.

A message to staff said they were also having to ferry patients to hospital in taxis due to ‘unprecedented demand’.

Hospital trusts have declared ‘critical incidents’, which means routine patient care is suffering and staff are being redeployed.

Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital had nearly 500 staff absent due to Covid. Morecambe Bay NHS Trust in Lancashire declared a critical incident due to the number of staff testing positive for coronavirus. 

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, public health director for the region, said: ‘We are bracing ourselves for a tsunami of Omicron cases in Lancashire.’ 

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the staffing situation meant it was ‘becoming almost impossible’ to deal with ‘the most urgent and pressing needs’.

He told Times Radio that ‘the most pressing element of all’ is the number of staff who are absent due to the virus, rather than the number of Covid patients needing treatment.

NHS staff have said they cannot get hold of any lateral flow tests – with some unable to work despite not testing positive for covid at a time when hospitals are routinely cancelling appointments and procedures due to Omicron, it was revealed today.

Even NHS bosses back cutting self-isolation period to FIVE days as staffing crisis sees hospitals CANCEL routine operations 

An NHS leader today revealed he would support slashing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis that has engulfed hospitals and led some to cancel routine operations. 

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts, said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the situation was ‘desperate’ and any way of getting staff back to work was a ‘good thing’. But he said it would be ‘completely counterproductive’ to have infectious staff return to wards because it would exacerbate the spread of Omicron.

Last month ministers cut the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to follow the US, which has squeezed quarantine to only five days for anyone without symptoms.

Around 1.3million Britons are currently thought to be languishing under house arrest as the NHS, rail services and bin collections all buckle under the weight of staff absences.

One in ten NHS employees are estimated to be off sick or self-isolating, and Mr Johnson yesterday revealed plans are being drawn up to call in the Army if the crisis continues to worsen.

The British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing have urged the Government to put health workers first for rapid tests to ease staffing issues in the health service.

One in ten NHS staff are currently off sick or isolating – but there are even higher absence rates at individual hospitals, but the NHS does not break down absence by cause, meaning many may be off with other illnesses including stress.

With the Government’s website out of LFTs again today, at least half a dozen NHS trusts across England have indicated they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients – and doctors and nurses say that they are scrambling for tests because they have to go online like millions of other Britons. 

Pharmacies have also said it could be up to a fortnight before they get new kits in due to shortages in the supply chain over Christmas, when the company given sole responsibility for distributing them shut down for four days over the festive period.

Hospital doctors, GPs, and cancer care nurses and have all said they are stuck at home having come into close contact with covid cases but unable to get enough lateral flow tests for check daily if they are also infected.

The situation has been made worse because PCR tests have also been scarce or unavailable, even for NHS staff.

Currently doctors, nurses and other health service staff can get LFTs from their place of work, if they are available, while some larger trusts have on-site testing. But most have to to use the same system as everyone else in the UK.

One medic tweeted last night: ‘9 hospitals have now declared critical incidents and NHS staff are still wearing surgical masks and can’t get hold of lateral flow tests. It’s a perfect storm. A s**t storm’. Another tweeted: ‘Current policy in my trust is if you have been near someone who has tested positive, you must lateral flow for 10 days & isolate from other staff on breaks. I have 7 lateral flow tests and none available nearby. Boris Johnson, care to fix this issue?’.

A GP wrote: ‘@sajidjavid The education secretary has got 31 million lateral flow tests for schools. I’m a GP. Our staff and I can’t get any. If we can’t test we can’t work safely. Secure supplies of Lateral flow tests for NHS staff are needed urgently’. 

Pharmacies have run out of tests and say it could be weeks, not days, until they got more

Today, again, there were no lateral flow tests available on the Government’s website, which NHS staff also have to use

Doctors, nurses and NHS staff have said that they cannot get hold of the tests they need 

Record 3.3MILLION people — one in 15 — had Covid on New Year’s Eve in England, official data shows but infections WERE slowing in Omicron hotspot London 

More than 3million people had Covid on New Years Eve in England — the equivalent of one in 15 — the country’s gold-standard surveillance study has found.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated a record 3.27million people were infected on any given day in the week to December 31, up more than 60 per cent on the previous week.  

Before the emergence of Omicron, that figure rarely rose above 1million, but the ultra-infectious variant has pushed the country’s infection rate to astronomical levels. 

The super-mild strain has, however, created a huge disparity between cases, hospitalisations and deaths, with admissions still a third of the level of previous peaks and fatalities 10 times lower. 

A shocking one in 10 Londoners were estimated to have had Covid by New Year’s Eve but said there were ‘early signs’ that infections are peaking in the capital, which has been hit hardest by the fourth wave. 

The ONS’ weekly infection survey is regarded as the most reliable indicator of the outbreak because it uses random sampling of around 100,000 people rather than relying on people coming forward to be tested.  

The report — relied on by ministers to guide Covid policy — is normally published on Fridays, but its release has been moved forward to Wednesdays while infections run at unprecedented levels.

Today’s findings show that around one in 20 people had the virus by New Year’s Eve in Wales and Scotland, both up from one in 40. In Northern Ireland, prevalence has increased from one in 40 to one in 25. 

It came as Boris Johnson promised 100,000 critical workers will be sent lateral flow tests to take every day in a Government bid to protect key services – but not to the 1million-plus NHS staff.

Food processing staff, border force officers and air traffic controllers will be among those to receive the swabs next week.

Boris Johnson said the Government was ‘acting to protect critical national services, keep supply chains open and fortify our NHS to withstand the pressures ahead’.

‘We’ve identified 100,000 critical workers in areas from food processing to transport to our border force,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘And from January 10 we’ll be rolling out lateral flow testing for all these workers.’

Ministers hope the tests will stop workers self-isolating unnecessarily as well as prevent outbreaks.

Covid testing rules will be relaxed to shorten isolation periods, the Daily Telegraph reported last night.

People who test positive on lateral flows but lack symptoms will be told they do not need a follow-up PCR test. This means their self-isolation period can be a day or two shorter. 

Staff at pharmacies are facing a wave of abuse from frustrated customers who are still unable to get their hands on free lateral flow tests, a health industry chief warned.

Some Britons claim they have been unable to get hold of lateral flow tests at their local pharmacies for up to ‘two weeks’ due to a supply shortage of the swab tests.

The issue – said to be sparked by distribution problems in the Government’s free testing programme – has led to people being unable to order tests online at various points.

Some pharmacies have also been forced to put up signs warning customers they have no more free tests.

With supplies still said to be ‘patchy’, pharmacy bosses are warning that staff are facing ‘unfair’ and ‘abusive’ behaviour by customers who are unable to pick up testing kits. 

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), told MailOnline: ‘Up until yesterday the supply to pharmacies were still patchy. The past few days the situation has no improved.  

‘Pharmacies are having to put up with a lot of abuse and aggressive behaviours by members of the public because of this situation which is unfair.

‘The demand is still very high now because the governments guidelines put a lot of emphasis on testing as a key out of self isolation, so naturally as Omicron cases are high people are reliant on tests to get on with daily life.’

Dr Hannbeck, meanwhile, insists pharmacies are still the ‘right place to distribute’ lateral flow tests.

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