British soldiers must start deploying to London to support the NHS amid growing staff shortages due to Covid-19, the Department of Defense (MoD) said.
About 200 members of the armed forces are made available to hospitals in the city, which has been the epicenter of the Omicron outbreak with a huge upsurge in cases.
The announcement comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week ministers hoped to “get through” the latest wave without needing further restrictions in England.
The Defense Ministry said the deployment included 40 military medics and 160 general duty staff to help fill gaps caused by absences of NHS staff unable to work because they were sick or had to self-isolate .
They will be deployed in 40 teams of five – comprising a nurse and four support staff – and will be targeted to areas where the need is greatest.
They are expected to be “up to speed” for the next three weeks.
In addition, 32 military co-respondents are provided to support the South Central Ambulance Service, working alongside paramedics through the end of March.
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The Director of the Royal College of Nursing for England, Patricia Marquis, said the deployment meant the government could no longer deny that there was a “staffing crisis” in the NHS.
“The Prime Minister and others can no longer ignore questions about the ability of NHS staff to provide safe care,” she said.
“Once the military has been recruited, who does the government then turn to in an attempt to ‘ride’ the wave rather than deal with it?”
Around 1,800 military personnel are already deployed across the UK to support civilian authorities in their response to the pandemic.
They include 313 staff assisting the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust and 96 with the Scottish Ambulance Service, while over 1,000 assist the vaccine booster program.
The announcement comes as the PA news agency understands that yesterday 17 hospital trusts in England had declared critical incidents – an alert to signal that there are fears that priority services could not be delivered safely .
Government figures showed there were 17,988 people hospitalized in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 5, up 50% week-on-week and the highest total since February 18 .
Infections remain high, with the latest official figures showing there were another 179,756 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus recorded in the UK as of 9 a.m. yesterday.