Covid-19 hospital admissions in England have risen to their highest level since January while the number of NHS hospital staff absent due to the virus nearly doubled in a month, new figures show.
The latest data from NHS England, published on Friday, show there were 2,370 Covid-19 hospital admissions in England on December 29, up 90% week-on-week and the highest number since January 29.
But it is still well below the second wave peak of 4,134 admissions on January 12, despite more record case numbers being reported.
Government figures show a further 189,846 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases had been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Friday, another new record for daily reported cases.
It comes after new Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed an estimated 2.3 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 23.
This is up from 1.4 million in the week to December 16 and the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020.
Meanwhile, separate NHS England data showed 24,632 staff at NHS hospital trusts were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on Boxing Day, up 31% from 18,829 a week earlier and nearly double the 12,508 at the start of the month.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS is facing a “perfect storm” of rising Covid hospital admissions and illness alongside increasing numbers of frontline workers being off sick.
“The NHS is putting in plans to step up once again for patients with the new Nightingale surge hubs, extra support from community services and virtual wards, but there is no doubt the whole system is running hot,” he said.
“While the Government seems determined not to increase restrictions in England, it is vital we all behave in ways that will not exacerbate an already dangerous situation.”
The scale of rising staff absences has led to political calls for an emergency Government Cobra meeting to be convened “without delay” by the Prime Minister to “thrash out a comprehensive rescue plan”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said work was being done to get NHS staff “easy access” to tests.
Mr Javid also said hospital admissions were “sadly” starting to rise as a result of record coronavirus infection numbers, “particularly in over 60s”.
Across the UK, there were 1,915 Covid-19 hospital admissions on Monday – up 62% week-on-week and the highest number since February 8, according to Government figures.
There were 11,918 people in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 on Wednesday, up 44% week-on-week and the highest number since March 2.
In England, there were 12,395 people in hospital with Covid-19 as of 8am on New Year’s Eve, according to figures from NHS England.
This is up 68% from a week earlier and is the highest number since February 25.
NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said the health service is setting up the Nightingale surge hubs at hospitals across the country and recruiting thousands of nurses and reservists.
He added: “We don’t yet know the full scale of rising Omicron cases and how this will affect people needing NHS treatment but, having hit a 10-month high for the number of patients in hospital with Covid while wrestling with sharply increasing staff absences, we are doing everything possible to free up beds and get people home to their loved ones – and in the last week hundreds more beds were freed up each day compared to the week before.
“The NHS is on a war footing, and, while staff remain braced for the worst, with Covid absence for NHS staff almost doubling in the past fortnight, keeping as many colleagues as possible at work on the front line and minimising absence, will be essential in the next few weeks.”
Prof Powis also urged people to get vaccinated, with 397,554 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine reported in the UK on Thursday.
More than 33.9 million booster and third doses have been delivered in the UK, with around 64% of all adults having received a booster or third dose.
A report from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, published on Friday, found that the percentage of patients admitted to critical care in England with confirmed Covid-19 who were unvaccinated rose from 47% in October to 61% in December.
This came after a drop from 75% in May, which the report said was consistent with the decreasing proportion of people who were unvaccinated.
It added that the highest proportion of unvaccinated critical care Covid patients in December was in London at 67%, the South West at 66% and the North West at 65%.
Meanwhile, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a leading statistician, said the UK’s daily Covid-19 cases could be closer to 500,000.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) adviser told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “The case data that has just come out today shows around about 190,000 (new cases) but even that we should take with a pinch of salt because we don’t actually count reinfections… and testing is limited – people are finding it more difficult to find tests – so normally the number of cases are around half the number of infections, so we could be talking about half a million new infections per day.
“This is a huge, unprecedented wave of infection and very daunting. It does look encouraging that London cases look like they may have peaked.”
But Sir David added: “Deaths are not yet going up.
“It looks like we are going to have a huge wave of cases and that is going to cause big disruption, in hospitals of course and other services, but in terms of translating to the very serious outcomes, I think we can be fairly optimistic. Things will get worse but it will be nothing like the previous waves.”