Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

The army has been deployed to the front line of NHS hospitals in London, the first such deployment in England during this winter’s coronavirus wave, which underlines the tension the Omicron variant takes on healthcare staff as hospitalizations increase.

About 40 defense doctors and 160 other staff members will provide support to hospitals across London for the next three weeks, the Ministry of Defense announced on Friday. Some staff members have already started posting.

The announcement of the deployment of military personnel in hospitals came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday said he would maintain a “voluntary” approach to Covid-19 vaccinations, even as ministers investigated plans to tighten rules against those who are not trapped.

Members of the British Armed Forces supported the NHS in other roles during the pandemic, including most recently by deploying as ambulance drivers and assisting in vaccine clinics. But this is the first time since last winter’s coronavirus wave that such large numbers of military personnel will be assisted in hospital wards.

The move comes despite signs of improved trends in the spread of coronavirus in London, the region first hit by the Omicron wave, while the rest of the country face an increase in infections and hospital admissions.

In London, the number of weekly Covid recordings has stagnated, with around 2,700 recorded in the past week. But hospitalizations in the rest of England rose by 58 per cent, with 11,576 admissions in the seven days to 4 January.

A senior NHS official told the FT they expect other regions to “follow” by requesting military support in the coming weeks. At least 24 NHS hospital trusts – a sixth of the total – have declared critical incidents due to staff absenteeism.

About one in 10 of the NHS workforce in England was absent on New Year’s Eve, according to official data seen by the Sunday Times. Covid-related absences among hospital staff rose 62 percent in five days to Dec. 31, with more than 40,000 staff members sick or self-isolating.

“Again [the armed forces] acts to assist NHS workers who work 24 hours a day across the capital and help the health service through this difficult winter period where the need is greatest, ”said Sajid Javid, the British health secretary.

The British Prime Minister said on Thursday during a visit to a vaccination center in Northampton that the government would not adopt the “coercion” -based approach of some other European countries.

“I think it’s important that we have a voluntary approach in this country,” he told reporters. “I believe in doing things by everyone working together and seeing the essential importance of vaccination. Other European countries are going for coercion. ”

Despite Johnson drawing a tougher line on vaccinations, discussions are continuing within the government over whether to tighten the rules. This may include some travelers arriving in England having to provide proof of a booster push to avoid quarantine.

“We will look into it if we think it is appropriate,” one government insider told the FT. Officials stressed that discussions are in the preliminary stage and that changes in travel rules were not “threatening”.

Ministers also discussed the possibility of denying access to large venues for individuals who did not have a stimulant push, as first reported in The times.

However, one government official said ministers remained reluctant to make any changes to Covid certification rules, especially in light of the conservative rebellion against Plan B measures last month.

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