Doctors on the frontline of the uks pandemic response are struggling to secure coronavirus tests for their children, forcing them to take time off work as the nhs wrestles with staff shortages exacerbated by the countrys faltering test and trace system.
The faculty of intensive care medicine and the royal college of emergency medicine told the financial times that doctors with families were having to take time off work if their children had been sent home from school, either because they were sick or because a classmate had covid-19 symptoms.
The children are not being tested, or there is a very long lag between getting them tested and resultsbeing returned, so there are large numbersof staff having to remove themselves from work, and often isolatefor two weeks, said alison pittard, dean of the faculty of intensive care medicine. that is having a huge impact on our ability to staff intensive care.
The depleted ranks are undermining the health services progress in preparing for the next wave of coronavirus and jeopardising its attempts to restore services halted or scaled back during the pandemic. the absences have forced hospitals to shut critical care beds, and left doctors unable to work shifts on accident and emergency wards.
The nhs worked hard to address a longstanding shortage of critical care beds as it prepared for the initial phase of the pandemic. operating theatres and other parts of hospitals were repurposed to create additional capacity, but a large amount of non-emergency nhs treatment had to be cancelled.
Dr pittard added: going into this second phase we are in a much better position in terms of our surge capacity, and being able to maintain some normal nhs activity alongside covid activity...[but] now were losing staff so we cant keep the beds open.
One intensive care colleague reported to her that 10 staff had to isolate after being exposed to an undiagnosed case, leaving that hospital running short of beds over the weekend. another faculty member was missing 19 nurses due to a combination of childcare issues and testing shortages.
We have created capacity so we can treat covid patients in the next surge and still maintain some normal (non-covid) activity but we are losing staff...so we cant staff the beds we have created. so its almost like were back to square one, said dr pittard.
She added: it is very frustrating to those of us working on the frontline.
Adrian boyle, vice-president of the royal college of emergency medicine, estimated that there was not enough staff to cover about 10 per cent of all shifts in accident and emergency departments across the uk, putting enormous operational pressure on hospitals and forcing a temporary withdrawal of, or reduction in, some services.
Dr boyle said that the big problem was not staff themselves, who most of the time could secure tests in their own hospitals, but with parents struggling to get their children tested,forcing the whole family to self-isolate in case the youngster might be covid-positive.
This was putting a strain, not only on emergency departments but also on the downstream and support services on which they relied, he said. where there were insufficient tests for staff with symptoms, hospitals were now prioritising tests for staff who were rota critical, their presence required to maintain core services such as emergency medicine, or paediatrics, he added.
While a hospital would never close its a&e department, unless the building posed a physical danger to patients, dr boyle said the staff shortages meant there had been occasions in recent weeks when a scanner could not be run, or laboratories were not able to work at full capacity, for example.
The department of health and social care said: claims the nhs is struggling to keep critical beds open are inaccurate nhs lab capacity is already being used to test hospital staff and significant funding has been committed to ensuring those who need tests receive them.
It added that nhs test and trace was providing tests at an unprecedented scale 225,000 a day on average over the last week with the vast majority of people getting tested within six miles of their home.