Army to send hundreds of soldiers to NHS hospitals to help intensive care units overwhelmed with Covid

HUNDREDS of extra soldiers will be sent to support London hospitals struggling with a rise in coronavirus patients.

Around 200 medical technicians will assist ICU staff battling Covid-19 at main NHS trusts, including the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead.

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A further 150 military staff will help in non-clinical roles in order to allow doctors and nurses to care for patients, after the NHS sent a request to the Ministry of Defence for aid, reports the Independent.

A leaked email seen by the newspaper alleges soldiers will help liase between patient families and staff, as well as helping wigth ward acitivities such as moving patients and equipment around hospitals.

It comes as data released on Thursday shows hospitals in the capital are in a staffing crisis – with almost 15,000 staff across the capital off work sick.

Around 60 per cent of the absences are linked to the virus, including 6,100 nurses and 789 doctors.

Nursing bodies have also issued a warning over hospitals stretching nurse to patient ratios to unsafe levels in intensive care wards.

Ahead of soldiers being deployed as early as Monday, hospitals have been asked to identify what they need under a request for formal aid from NHS England.

In a message to hospitals from NHS Professionals – a company owned by the Department of Health and Social care to source extra staff for NHS trust – hospitals were told the Ministry of Defence was looking to send in personnel to perform “general non-clinical duties to support clinical services.”

It read: “We want to deploy as many additional resources as possibly to build into your teams to reduce the current burdens faced by your clinical workforce.

"Our role will be to deploy as many requested military personnel to your trust starting from Monday 18 January.”

At the Royal Free Hospital bosses have issued repeated urgent appeals for staff to work in it’s intensive care unit.

A message seen by the newspaper reportedly said: “We urgently need staff that are available to work clinically over the coming days — night shifts and weekends are especially needed.”

It comes after Mayor Sadiq Khan last week declared a major incident in London with hospitals at breaking point under the strain of rising infection numbers.

Thursday saw virus cases increase to a new record of 7,840 – an increase of 154 in a day.

Meanwhile, hospitals across the country are currently at "breaking point" as they battle to treat a surge in coronavirus patients.

One in five hospitals have no spare ICU beds as operations have been cancelled to make way for Covid-19 patients.

Hospitals nationally are treating more Covid-19 patients than they were in the spring and NHS bosses have warned it could stay that way until at least February.

A warning from the UK Critical Care Nursing Alliance said that the ratio of patients to each nurse – which has been stretched from 1:1 to 1:3 during the pandemic – has already been breached.

“Bedside nurse to patient ratios are already deteriorating beyond those set out by national pandemic guidance documents," the alliance said.

"Further dilution of bedside nurse to patient ratios should only happen in exceptional circumstances where there is a need to expand capacity despite escalation to regional and national critical care networks and when all local and regional mutual aid options, including inter-regional assistance, have been exhausted.

“Ratios must be returned to normal as soon as practicable as these staffing level".

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told The Sun Online: “The Ministry of Defence is working hard to identify where it can most effectively support the civil authorities, including the NHS.

“Defence already has around 1,600 medical personnel working in the NHS on a permanent basis and is working with the NHS to provide further support where it will be needed over the coming weeks.”

And an NHS in London spokesperson said: “Hospitals in London are under significant pressure from high COVID-19 infection rates and while staff are going the extra mile to care for patients including by opening more beds and opening the Nightingale, it is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus by following the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance.”

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