The number of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are falling ill with Covid-19 has reached crisis levels and is seriously hampering the fight against the rapidly escalating pandemic, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.

The problem of staff absence, due to illness or the need to self-isolate when family members test positive, is also beginning to hamper the vaccination programme.

In a letter to members, BMA chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul noted: “There are over 46,000 hospital staff off sick with Covid-19, heaping additional pressure on an already overstretched workforce struggling to manage even current critical care demand.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of the BMA.

Stressing the need for doctors and other health workers to be vaccinated as soon as possible, Dr Nagpaul added: “It is only if the NHS workforce is kept fit and well that we will be able to meet the unprecedented surge in demand, as well as delivering the vaccine programme that remains our only hope to end this dreadful pandemic.”

Transport, education and retail unions have called for essential workers in these sectors to be added to the priority list for vaccinations. Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has called on employers to give staff paid time off to get the vaccine.

She has written to the following five main business groups to request that they ease the process of workers getting the jab – the Confederation of Business Industry, the British Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and MakeUK.