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Minister Admits “It’s Not Normal” To Have Army Deployed To Tackle Covid In London Hospitals

The NHS in London is being supported by 200 armed forces personnel to help deal with the Omicron wave of Covid-19 and mass staff absences (Alamy)

3 min read

The minister for London has underlined the severity of the decision to deploy 200 army personnel to hospitals in the capital to tackle a rise in Covid patients and staff absences, describing the situation as "not normal".

The government has confirmed that service personnel began deploying this week in London, where the number of Covid patients has more than tripled in the past few weeks, and are “expected to be on task for three weeks”.

There are forty teams of five, each comprised of one medic and four on general duties will be distributed across the city, with the Ministry of Defence also providing 32 military co-responders to the South Central Ambulance Service to work alongside paramedics in the capital.

But Paul Scully said there are "encouraging" signs that London is emerging from the initial wave of cases caused by the Omicron variant.

“But clearly we need to be on our guard because there is still pressure on the NHS in London,” Scully told LBC. 

Speaking to Sky News, Scully admitted that it was "clearly" not normal for the military to have to support the NHS in this way, and insisted that people "get out and get vaccinated, get boosted,” the help curb infections.

While London may be believed to be through the worst of the Omicron wave, the threat of high infection rates remains severe. 179,756 new Covid cases were reported on Thursday, and more than one in six NHS trusts in England have declared a critical incident in the face of Covid pressures. 

Air Commodore John Lyle told the BBC the Army remained in discussions about deploying more soldiers in other areas where the NHS is under pressure.

"We can't really forecast too far ahead, but certainly, throughout this current surge, we know that it's particularly difficult in London at the minute, but we are aware that this is impacting all across the United Kingdom," he said.

"We remain in discussions and there are a number of areas where we're looking at the potential for more assistance.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association, told Sky News "we have never known this level of staff absence before”.

"Every winter of course, the NHS has additional pressures, but I don't think anyone who's worked in the NHS has experienced this level of absence of their colleagues, and we're feeling it in very real time because doctors and nurses and healthcare workers are having to cover for their absent colleagues – that's adding additional, exceptional strain,” he said.

Nagpaul said that in his time working as a GP he had "never known it this bad", and while he stopped short of admitting the health service was "overwhelmed", insisted the "reality" of the situation on the ground was "not normal". 

"The reality of the Army having been drafted in to London, the reality of 24 hospitals having declared critical incidents, the reality of having some hospitals having to cancel all their routine surgery, the reality of general practices having to cancel clinics on the day," he said. 

But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said people should not feel "concerned" by the presence of the military in hospitals as this was how the service was dealing with staff shortages.

"It is unfortunately the case for example that in some parts of the country we are going to have to cancel non-urgent operations and I know that's really frustrating for people who've been waiting for a long time but it's important to understand that these are very special circumstances we're in," he told Sky.

"The NHS is not going to disintegrate – it's been dealing with this crisis for two years and it will deal with it again.”

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