‘Huge worry’ over impact of Omicron on NHS staff, senior medic says

Dr Lewis Morrison said the health service faced a ‘double whammy’ of winter pressures and the latest coronavirus variant.

Neil Pooran
Saturday 18 December 2021 14:35
The NHS is facing a ‘double whammy’ of winter pressures and the latest coronavirus variant, medics warned (Peter Byrne/PA)
The NHS is facing a ‘double whammy’ of winter pressures and the latest coronavirus variant, medics warned (Peter Byrne/PA)

The impact of the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant on NHS staffing levels is a “huge worry”, a senior medic has said.

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA Scotland, said the NHS was facing a “double whammy” of winter pressures and the latest coronavirus variant.

On Friday, Nicola Sturgeon announced Omicron was now the dominant strain of the virus and a “tsunami” was beginning to hit Scotland.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Dr Morrison said: “For this to coincide with the usual pressures, which are generally due to people being sick, they’re not the routine work, at this time of year it’s a bit of a double whammy.

There are particular concerns about nursing staff (Jane Barlow/PA)

People are really tired now.”

Asked about medical staff being required to self-isolate and the pressure this was putting on medical care, he said: “I think if we see a huge number of cases of the new variant it’s highly likely to impact the medical workforce.

“From a hospital perspective, it’s the effect it may have on nursing staff particularly because it’s nurses that keep the wards safe at the most basic level.

“Although we can to some extent redeploy staff, there are real limits on how much we can do that.

“It remains to be seen what proportion of the NHS workforce might end up self-isolating either temporarily or for longer, but that’s got to be a huge worry.”

Virus expert Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, of Edinburgh University, told the radio programme that the symptoms of Omicron had changed compared to the Delta variant and often resembled the common cold, while the virus seemed to last for shorter periods in infected people.

A rapid rise in positive cases is expected (Danny Lawson/PA)

Omicron was very good at spreading in large, close-contact settings such as nightclubs, she said.

Dr Tait-Burkard said: “We have seen Wales closing down nightclubs after Christmas, it is a good potential that that might happen in Scotland as well alongside large events.”

Discussing suggestions the latest wave of cases could rise and fall quickly, she said: “It’s going up with such lightning speed that eventually the virus runs out of people to infect for multiple reasons.”

This could still lead to a large number of people ending up in hospital in a short timeframe, she said.

The UK Government is due to hold a Cobra meeting this weekend as devolved administrations demand more money for their measures to tackle Omicron.

A phone call involving Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson also took place on Friday.

A spokesperson for the First Minister said she emphasised the “extreme urgency of the crisis” for businesses.

Nearly 6,000 new positive cases were recorded (Danny Lawson/PA)

On Saturday, Scotland recorded nine new coronavirus deaths and 5,917 positive cases in the previous 24 hours.

The daily figures from the Scottish Government showed 494 people were in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19, of which 34 were in intensive care.

The test positivity rate stood at 12.2%.

A total of 4,369,398 people have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine while 3,988,961 have received their second dose and 2,436,952 have received a third dose or booster.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in