Military personnel step in to help strained hospitals in London

British troops dispatched Friday to hospitals in London struggling to cope with “extraordinary” staff shortages in the midst of the rise COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.
The Department of Defense said it sent about 40 military medics and 160 regular guards to close staff gaps caused by National Health Service personnel who are either sick or self-isolating amid the rise in coronavirus cases in the capital.
prime minister Boris Johnson said earlier this week that he hoped the country could “ride out” the pandemic without further restrictions, even as he warned that the country is facing difficult days ahead caused by the highly transferable Omicron variant.
Paramedics are pushing a trolley next to a series of ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital in the Whitechapel area of ‚Äč‚Äčeast London on Thursday 6 January 2022.
Health authorities across the UK simplified COVID-19 testing requirements on Wednesday, a move designed to reduce isolation times for many people and which could alleviate staff shortages hitting public services amid an omicron-driven rise in coronavirus infections. (AP)

The military deployment underscores the impact on Britain’s healthcare system of the pandemic, which infected nearly 180,000 people Thursday in the country alone and forced many workers to stay at home.

“The men and women of our armed forces are once again stepping up to support their dedicated colleagues in the NHS while working hand in hand to protect the nation from COVID-19,” said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

“They have shown their worth time and time again through this pandemic, whether they run ambulances, administer vaccines or support patients in the hospital, and they should be proud of their contribution to this truly national effort,” he added.

Health officials said the military deployment highlighted how the country is struggling to stay on top of the pandemic.

Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, told Sky News “we have never known this level of staff absence before.”

An Emergency Department sign at St.  Thomas Hospital appears against the backdrop of the Elizabeth Tower of the Houses of Parliament, known as Big Ben, in London on Thursday, January 6, 2022.
A number of local organizations in the National Health Service have declared “critical incidents” in recent days due to staff shortages (AP)

He said the health service faces pressure every winter, “but I do not think anyone who has worked in the NHS has experienced this level of absence of their colleagues and we feel it in very real time because doctors and nurses and healthcare professionals are having to cover their absent colleagues – it adds extra, extraordinary strain. “

Across the UK, hospitals declare “critical incidents” due to staff shortages and postponement of planned surgeries.

“This is not normal and therefore the government has to acknowledge that this is clearly an NHS under extreme pressure and the living reality, unfortunately for thousands of patients, is that they are suffering the consequences of such pressure and also staff absenteeism, “Nagpaul said.

Municipal workers are clearing the areas around the Giza pyramid complex in hopes of curbing the coronavirus outbreak in Egypt, Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

The pyramids of Egypt sterilized

While the current military focus is on London, it may spread.

Air Commodore John Lyle told the BBC that the military is still in discussions about further support for the NHS in other parts of the country.

“We can not really predict too far ahead, but we know, throughout this current rise, that it is particularly difficult in London at the moment, but we are aware that this is affecting the whole of the UK,” he said.

Nagpaul called for action to reduce infections and better protect healthcare professionals from the Omicron variant, saying it was important that “the government does not just wait to ride it out, because every day people suffer.”

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