AROUND TWO-THIRDS of UK doctors have told the BMA that the spread of Omicron is causing a dramatic slowdown in the provision of non-urgent medical care, leaving millions of patients in untold suffering as a result.

In the results of a snap survey released by the Association on 8 January, the severe impact of this wave of the pandemic on the health service is clear, with more than one in five doctors having had to personally self-isolate within the last two weeks.

Nine in ten said clinical colleagues had to take sick leave or self-isolate within the same period. Less than half of doctors said they could always access lateral flow tests, which are required to return to work as quickly as possible.

When asked how they believed the rise of Omicron might continue to negatively impact patients needing routine planned surgery, investigations, and procedures, their answers were sobering, with more than nine in 10 doctors worried about the NHS’s ability to provide urgent and acute care to non-Covid patients, as well as tackling the backlog of nearly six million patients waiting for treatment.

Many doctors are understandably worried about how non-Covid patients will get the treatment they need, especially when almost half of respondents said they are extremely concerned about staffing levels in their place of work.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, 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.

“It is troubling that despite the infectiousness of the Omicron variant, almost half of doctors said that when working in red zones they were not provided with respirator masks which can filtrate airborne viral particles. This places them at an unacceptable risk of infection when we cannot afford further staff absences.

“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 incredibly distressing when we can’t do that, with the risk that many patients’ health will deteriorate as they wait.

“We need a thorough plan from Government for how to tackle the backlog with funding to match, as was highlighted only this week by the cross-party Health and Social Care Select Committee. Ultimately it is clear that the rate of infection must be brought down to reduce staff absence and the devastating impact of Covid on the health service.

“Doctors were strongly in favour of further public health measures with almost eight in 10 doctors supporting limits on households mixing indoors, nine in 10 supporting social distancing in public spaces, shops, the workplace and in hospitality, as well as temporary limits on large scale events and face masks in crowded spaces.

“With GPs struggling with staff absences and some two-dozen hospital Trusts now declaring critical incidents, the Army being deployed to support hospitals, and some ambulance Trusts asking patients to make their own way to hospital, the Government must now act decisively to control the spread and impact of Omicron on our health service.”

* Source: British Medical Association