Staff absences at NHS hospitals in England due to Covid-19 have jumped to their highest level for nearly three months, putting further pressure on health teams struggling to clear a record backlog of treatment, new figures show.
It comes as the number of patients testing positive for the virus continues to rise across the country, driven by the latest wave of infections.
An average of 22,918 hospital staff in England were absent each day in the week to July 6, either because they were sick with Covid-19 or were self-isolating.
This is up 30% on the previous week, and is the highest since 23,813 absences in the week to April 20.
The figure is below the level reached at the peak of the first Omicron wave of infections in early January, when absences due to coronavirus averaged nearly 54,000.
But the rise mirrors other data showing Covid is becoming steadily more prevalent, with the potential to cause further disruption to health and care services.
The figures, from NHS England, also show an average of 78,940 hospital staff were absent due to any kind of sickness or self-isolation each day in the week to July 6, the equivalent of around 6% of the total workforce.
This number reached nearly 9% at the peak of the first Omicron wave.
Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: “There is no doubt the NHS still faces significant pressures, from rising Covid admissions, thousands of staff absences due to the virus, the heatwave, and record demand for ambulances and emergency care.
“While the current heatwave is not shown in today’s figures, it also affects NHS capacity – but it remains important that anyone needing emergency care dials 999, and the public use 111 online and local pharmacies for other health issues and advice.”
Separate figures published on Thursday show the number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a new record high.
A total of 6.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of May, NHS England said.
This is up from 6.5 million in April and is the highest since records began in August 2007.
The number of people in hospital in England who have tested positive for Covid-19 currently stands at 13,741, up 20% week on week and close to the peak reached during the Omicron BA.2 wave in the spring.
Patient levels remain well below those seen during the pre-vaccine waves of the virus in 2020 and early 2021, however.
The current wave is being driven by the coronavirus subvariants Omicron BA.4 and BA.5.
Around six in 10 patients who test positive for Covid-19 are being treated primarily for something else rather than the virus, but still need to be kept isolated from other patients, placing further demands on hospital staff and resources.