PINGDEMIC chaos was tonight hitting 999 call centres — delaying ambulances across the country.

People were allegedly waiting up to 20 minutes to get through for help.


The chaos has left ambulance services on the brink as 1,000 NHS staff are forced to self-isolate and stay away from work.

Needy Brits are also waiting hours for ambulances to arrive as doctors and paramedics are prioritised for only the sickest people.

Some hospital and ambulance trusts say they are experiencing the busiest times in their histories.

Hot weather, an explosion of bugs and illnesses after lockdown and a swathe of staff self-isolating after being pinged by the NHS Covid app has let to unrelenting pressure.

Insiders at one ambulance trust said some patients had been waiting days for help as so many call handlers and medics were isolating.

They claimed extra staff at their English trust would normally be drafted in from elsewhere but neighbouring services have also been hit by rocketing staff absence.

One exhausted call handler told The Sun: “I have spoken to people who have been waiting 20 minutes if not longer after calling 999.

“One elderly person I spoke to had been trying to call for 15 minutes, and then I had to tell them it was going to be five hours before an ambulance could get to them.”

Only double-jabbed NHS workers are exempt from isolating if they are pinged. Many exempt staff are also choosing to over fears they will infect vulnerable loved ones.

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The insider added: “I’ve not known so many people not be able to come to work. Lots of people have been pinged and even though they don’t have to isolate they feel a responsibility to their families to make sure they are safe.”

Some ambulance services are missing up to five per cent of their staff, it can be revealed.

And tired crews are facing some of their busiest ever shifts, with the country making 18,000 calls a day last week — the highest for a year.

In the capital yesterday, London Ambulance Service issued an emergency alert as high Covid rates and hot weather caused a deluge of 999 calls. A total of 7,592 were received by the service on Monday, 2,000 more than a normal busy day.

There were also an additional 6,259 calls to the NHS 111 non-emergency number. And the pressure failed to ease yesterday with 7,230 calls to 999 and 4,198 to the 111 helpline.

Bosses were forced to target only the sickest patients — leaving some with non-life threatening conditions to wait several hours.

South Western Ambulance Service crews said Sunday was their busiest week in history after responding to one incident every 26 seconds. The second busiest was New Year’s Day in 2018.

NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson said yesterday many ambulance and acute hospital trusts were “under extreme pressure”.

'UNDER EXTREME PRESSURE'

It comes as an estimated 130,000 people are being alerted to contact with a Covid carrier by the NHS app every day, research has suggested. Two million Brits could be trapped in self-isolation

A YouGov poll found one in five people are thinking of deleting the app. And former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt argued the double-jabbed should be allowed to walk free if they test negative — a plan not set to begin until August 16.

The pingdemic is depriving the country of some £90million in daily output, the Centre for Economics and Business Research found.

A fortnight of pings will deliver a £1.2billion blow to the economy. Police officers and staff are also suffering as a result.

A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: “Nationally the police officer and staff absence rate is 7.3 per cent. However, in some forces some functions, such as control rooms, are experiencing higher levels of absence.”

Shock figures show two million Brits are now in self-isolation after being pinged by the NHS Covid app.

Last night panicked ministers announced plans to keep Britain fed after pictures showed empty supermarket shelves.

Workers key to food and drink distributions — such as lorry drivers and factory workers — will be able to skip self-isolation and take daily Covid tests to clear them for work.

But frontline supermarket workers, like checkout staff and shelf stackers, are not expected to be included. The test and release programme will operate across around 500 sites like depots, distribution centres and factories.

 

Bosses will have to prove they are suffering dire staff shortages before they are allowed to sign up. Ministers signed off on the plan after bosses threatened to revolt and tell staff to ignore alerts to keep shops open and families fed.

But one supermarket insider told The Sun: “This is not enough. Those eligible is far too limited.”

Ministers will also announce an extension of daily testing to replace isolation for all police forces. The Government confirmed a small number of workers in critical areas like energy plants can skip self- isolation.

Yesterday, as pingdemic staff and supply shortages kicked in:

  • BIN collections were stopped by the country’s worst-hit councils;
  • BP shut some petrol stations;
  • UNIONS warned a lack of signalling staff would hit train lines;
  • SANDWICH chain Pret a Manger temporarily closed 17 shops

Embattled Boris Johnson faced a growing wave of fury from businesses, scientists and Tory MPs.

They begged him to tear up self-isolation rules for the double jabbed rather than wait until August 16.

Environment Secretary George Eustice hailed food businesses as the “hidden heroes” of the pandemic. He said: We are working closely with industry to allow staff to go about their essential work safely with daily testing.”

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood urged the PM to consider calling in the Army to keep supermarkets stocked.

He said: “There will come a point where the pingdemic is causing more hardship than the pandemic itself. We cannot cross that line.”

Prof Ravi Gupta, who sits on a government science advisory committee, said it was “difficult to justify” forcing Brits to self-isolate when tens of thousands were allowed to pack Wembley for the Euros.

Other sectors poleaxed by app

HOSPITALITY

AT least 380,000 hospitality staff are isolating after being pinged.
Chains such as Nando’s have temporarily closed restaurants while pub group Stonegate said 1,000 of its staff are off. Kate Nicholls, of UKHospitality, called for a “rapid and urgent overhaul”.

SCHOOLS

COVID rules forced more than one million pupils to miss school last week. Some primary and secondary schools have even shut early because of mass absences. Association of School and College Leaders’ Geoff Barton called it “a grim end” to a year of disruption.

CAR MAKERS

VAUXHALL slashed shifts at its Luton van plant due to staff shortages.
And Nissan has also been hit in Sunderland. Nearly 100,000 drivers are isolating. Society of Motor Manufacturers’ Mike Hawes said it puts production at risk, adding: “Urgent action is needed.”

POST

ROYAL Mail has failed to process letters and parcels at the normal rate in Swindon, Plymouth and Manchester. Bosses blamed resourcing issues, associated self-isolation and safety measures. The firm said some areas had “very high levels of absence”.

ENTERTAINMENT

ANDREW Lloyd Webber, below, said the industry is “on its knees” due to isolation rules. Productions including the theatre guru’s ­version of Cinderella ­cancelled shows as cast and crew had to isolate. He insisted the current system is “completely untenable”.

TRAVEL

TUBE services in London have been cancelled after drivers were forced off. Train passengers in the Midlands and Yorkshire were also impacted and bus services across the UK have been hit. And airport bosses fear they cannot cope with the current staffing levels.

PETROL

EMPTY pumps are blighting the country as fuel deliveries are restricted. Petrol giant BP said industry-wide driver shortages have disrupted fuel availability. It added the situation has been worsened by “Covid-19 isolation among staff, impacting our supply chain”.

RETAIL

SUPERMARKET shelves are empty as 1.7million workers isolate.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Lidl ran out of meat, vegetables and other fresh produce. Nick Allen, of the British Meat Processors’ Association, said: “It’s getting a bit out of control.”

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