As increasing numbers of hospital staff have become infected with the Omicron variant, a lack of workers has led to overwhelming delays in treating patients who arrive by ambulance. As a result, some crews have taken to Netflix, which they stream in the back of the vehicles, to entertain those waiting with shows, the leader of Britain’s paramedics said.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Tracy Nicholls, chief executive of the College of Paramedics, said: “Paramedics are spending time apologising to everyone for their waits and distress.
“If you’ve got a tricky relationship with the patient, you could be sitting with them for several hours in a metal box and tensions can build.
“I’ve heard that some crews have streamed Netflix onto their trust iPads and strapped [them] to the stretcher so that those patients who are able can watch shows while they wait.”
The bleak picture painted by Ms Nicholls echoes the latest numbers.
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NHS figures released on Friday showed roughly a quarter of ambulances were delayed by 30 minutes or more in England while almost one in 10 was delayed by at least one hour.
Meanwhile, approximately 4 percent of hospital staff in England — nearly 36,000 — were off because of COVID-19 each day during the week ending January 2.
This represents a rise of 41 percent on the previous week, and treble the 11,957 absences seen at the beginning of the Omicron wave in the week ending December 5.
Adding in other sickness absences, the total stands at 9 percent – almost double the normal at this time of year.
These figures are the highest since the start of the vaccine rollout, yet still much lower than those seen during the first Covid wave peak, when almost 83,000 staff were off due to coronavirus.
As of Friday morning, 16 hospital trusts in England — about one in eight of the total — were understood to be in critical incident status, which is declared when a trust fears it might not be able to provide core priority services, such as emergency care.
On Wednesday night, the number surpassed 20. However, NHS sources told the BBC several have declared their critical incident over since then.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned the seriousness of staff shortages was such that hospitals had become unsafe.
Patricia Marquis, RCN’s director for England, said: “These figures reveal why the government hurriedly announced military support for health and care services in London last night.
“The numbers off work due to Covid-19 in acute trusts rose by almost 60% in the most recent week and have more than trebled in a month to nearly 40,000 staff in a single day.
“Outside of healthcare, staffing shortages are closing shops and cancelling trains but nurses can’t stop helping their patients. Instead, they find themselves spread thinner and thinner, but they can’t keep spinning plates indefinitely either.
“This situation is simply not safe.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.