Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19: Omicron is “battering” the NHS and causing “untold suffering” for patients, say doctors

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: (Published 10 January 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:o45

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  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

The government must provide a “thorough plan,” with funding to match, to tackle the NHS backlog, as nearly two thirds of doctors report the spread of omicron has caused a dramatic slowdown in the provision of non-urgent care, the BMA has said.

Millions of patients are being left in “untold suffering,” the association has warned. A survey of 5732 doctors found that 97% were concerned about the NHS’s ability to deliver urgent and acute care to non-covid patients, while 98% were concerned about the NHS’s ability to reduce delays and waiting lists.

The survey also found that fewer than half of doctors said they could always access lateral flow tests when needed (46% of 5889). More than one in five (21% of 5910) reported having to self-isolate within the past two weeks and nine in 10 (89% of 5933) said their clinical colleagues had to take sick leave or self-isolate over the same period.

The findings follow a damning report from the Health and Social Care Committee which said the staffing crisis must be tackled if the NHS is to reduce the care backlog.1

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said, “The prime minister is wrong to ask that the NHS ‘just get through it’—this survey shows that omicron is battering our health service, forcing staff off sick, resulting in untold suffering for patients as a result.

“We currently have a record breaking waiting list stretching to almost six million; these are real people in distress, 312,000 of whom have been already waiting more than 12 months. As doctors, it is our job to provide the care they need and it’s distressing when we can’t do that, with the risk that many patients’ health will deteriorate as they wait.”

When asked about potential measures to limit the spread of covid-19, doctors most strongly supported legally mandated face masks in crowded spaces and hospitality venues (77%), temporary limits on large events (56%), and a reintroduction of social distancing in public places, shops, and places of work (52%).

“The government must now act decisively to control the spread and impact of omicron on our health service,” Nagpaul said.


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