• Absence rate for nurses has risen to around 10 per cent, up from 7 per cent at the start of December
  • East of England and Midlands are the worst hit
  • But absence rates not yet as bad as the April peak
  • Final year nursing students can again opt-in to support covid response, HEE confirms

More than one in 10 hospital nurses are now off work in areas hard-hit by covid, according to internal data leaked to HSJ.

The data shows the toal absence rate among acute trust nurses has risen steadily over the last month.

Nationally the total absence rate among acute trust nurses was 9.7 per cent as of Monday, up from around 7 per cent at the start of December, pushed up by rapidly rising absences due to covid. These make up more than half of total absences, and have now hit rates last seen in early May.

Senior NHS sources said staff absences are severely compounding operational pressures in the hardest hit regions, limiting hospitals’ capacity to operate more than is suggested in official bed capacity figures.

The highest rate was in the East of England where 11.4 per cent of nurses off work, with coronavirus accounting for 7.5 per cent. This is likely to mask even higher rates in particular hospitals, services and wards.

The absence rate for nurses in the Midlands’ was 10.4 per cent, with half of those due to covid.

London, the North West and the South East are all experiencing nurse absence rates of between 9 and 10 per cent.

A Midlands chief executive told HSJ maintaining staffing levels is “the biggest challenge we face”, with ten per cent of their workforce off sick.

“We worry about now, and what more is to come,” they said.

Healthcare unions are calling for all staff to be prioritised for the covid vaccination amid these rising sickness rates.

Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association chair of council, said this week that covid staff sickness was having a “real impact” on the ability to provide services and could hit the vaccination programme.

He added: “Health and care workers must be vaccinated now… If we see more staff falling ill that will have a direct impact on the NHS’ ability to provide care and it will be patients that will suffer.”