Twenty-four NHS trusts have now declared ‘critical incidents’ amid staffing shortages and rising Covid admissions — but ministers have downplayed the warnings saying it is not unusual for hospitals to face winter crises.

Grant Shapps said that 24 out of England’s 137 trusts — or 17.5 per cent of the entire health service — had signalled they may not be able to deliver critical care in the coming weeks.

The Transport Secretary, however, blasted the alerts and stated to Sky News that it was not unusual for hospitals in winter situations like the flu pandemic to become critical.

While the complete list of trusts is not public, there are some that have been alarming, such as North East Ambulance Service (NEA), Dorset County Hospital, and Great Western Hospitals.

Staff can be asked to take leave, or to rest on days for critical situations. If they raise the alarm, help will come from local hospitals.

The warning comes at a time when MPs have warned that patient waiting lists in England are now 6million, and could rise to 2 million in the next three years if there is no further action.

Boris Johnson stated yesterday, however that normal life may return by February. This is after yesterday’s six percent increase in cases. UK saw 194,747 more daily cases than the 183,037 reported last Wednesday.

The Prime Minister has held his nerve in the face of the spiralling Omicron wave — unlike his counterparts in Scotland and Wales — and imposed no new curbs over the holidays, winning him praise from Tory MPs.

Theresa May was the former prime minister and said to Mr Johnson: ‘May you commend yourself for refusing Labour calls for further restrictions before Christmas. It is not in our national interests to close down certain sectors of the economy whenever we spot a new variant.

Lockdown-sceptic MP Steve Brine also heeralded the PM, saying: ‘The Prime Minister deserves real credit for decisions in respect of Covid — he has followed the evidence and taken the wider view of our society and economy.’

Current pressures on NHS hospitals stem from severe staffing problems caused by Covid. With one in ten of the NHS’s medics being off sick, there is an increase in Covid hospitalisations.

GPs also have a shortage of personnel, and Professor Martin Marshall of Royal College of GPs warns that a growing number’ of physicians and staff members may be isolated due to the virus. He expressed concern about the “pressure” GPs face and suggested that minor self-limiting conditions should be treated online or by visiting pharmacies. 

Some medical professionals are calling to reduce self-isolation time to just five days, in accordance with France and the US. If science backs it up, this will allow staff to return to the wards more quickly.

However, scientists from the Government have cautioned against this move as it could lead to infective employees returning to the wards. 

A minimum of half-a dozen English trusts have reported ‘critical incidents’, indicating they might not be able to provide vital care for patients over the next few weeks due to so many doctors being away isolating.

The number of daily positive Covid tests recorded in England has exceeded 100,000 for nearly two weeks. However, the number of patients in hospital with the virus is a fraction of the level seen last winter, while deaths remain flat

In England, there have been nearly 100,000 positive Covid tests per day for the past two weeks. However, this year’s number of positive Covid tests in England has exceeded 100,000 for almost two weeks. Deaths remain constant.

The average NHS worker took off 14 days sick per year BEFORE Covid struck 

NHS staff took more than three times as many sick days as the average worker even before the pandemic struck – with stress, anxiety and depression blamed for a third of all absences, official figures revealed today.

Health service data shows there were 17.7million days of leave taken between April 2018 and March 2019 – the equivalent of around 14 days per worker – mainly for mental health problems or muscle and back pain. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average Briton flew for 4.2 days in the same time period.

The peak in NHS absences in England was at the beginning of the pandemic. Sick days were the highest for support staff and lowest for doctors. One-tenth of NHS staff is currently sick, or are self-isolating. However, some hospitals have higher rates.

MailOnline can also reveal that staff working at the NHS trusts currently cancelling all non-urgent operations and appointments due to Omicron are still allowing employees to go on holiday while on a ‘war footing’, according to Boris Johnson.

Both the Great Western NHS Foundation Trust Trust and United Lincolnshire NHS Trust admit that there is no annual leave ban despite declaring “critical incidents”.

Two days prior to the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust declaring a critical incident on Boxing Day 2018, only four staff members of their 7,400 were registered with Covid, or self-isolating as off sick, according to NHS England’s most recent data. But a further 312 staff were not at work due with other illnesses such as common winter bugs and stress. 

The spokesperson for the PM stated yesterday that “We know there are many trusts that report critical incidents.

“I think it is more than 20, but this number could fluctuate. Again, critical care incidents are not always the same. They can have a different scale. This is why it doesn’t necessarily give a clear indication of performance in the NHS at any given time. 

The Prime Minister announced yesterday that plans have been made for calling in the Army to assist hospitals in an emergency situation.

A number of non-urgent procedures at Greater Manchester’s 17 hospitals were canceled after health officials stated that 15% of staff had stayed at home while Covid was being administered.  

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts — said he would support cutting Covid isolation to five days to reduce pressure on the health service as long as it was backed up by the science.

 And Covid hospitalisations are adding to hospital pressures, with 2,258 admissions recorded on December 28, up 56.9 per cent in a week, while the number of patients in hospital reached 17,726 on Tuesday — the highest figures seen since February.

A third of admissions however are “incidental cases”, which refer to those who have not been admitted for the virus but were accidentally positive.

This is compared to the 30,000+ people who were admitted to hospital in January last year. 

At the height of last winter’s second wave, nearly 40K Britons were admitted to hospital.  

Today, doctors warned that the NHS was adding misery and “crippling” the NHS by imposing guidelines for isolating infected patients.

According to current NHS guidelines, inpatients exposed to infected persons while they are in hospital should be kept separate or in groups with others until 14 days following their last exposure.

It applies regardless of whether the patient has been fully vaccinated, or if they had an earlier Covid infection. The same rule applies if the patient is discharged to a care home — they must be isolated for the remainder of the 14-day period. 

Pat Cattini was an infection control nurse with the Royal Marsden NHS foundation Trust. He told the Health Service Journal the guidance had never been updated despite the changing epidemiology and that it is crippling healthcare.  

Covid testing rules could be relaxed in an effort to combat the havoc wreaked on essential services across the country by thousands of key workers being stuck in self-isolation. Pictured: A deserted Waterloo Station at 08.15 yesterday morning

Covid testing regulations could be relaxed to counter the destruction of essential services in the country caused by thousands upon thousands of employees trapped in isolation. Pictured at 08.15 this morning: Waterloo Station deserted

As the number succumbing to the virus reached a record high, there were fears that staff absence due to Covid could become just as big a problem, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and several hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend non-urgent surgeries. Pictured: Overflowing bins in the Walton area of Liverpool

With the peak in the outbreak, the NHS workers took three times the time to get sick than office workers. This is a difference that hasn’t been seen since.

Pharmacies have run out of tests and say it could be weeks, not days, until they got more

Some pharmacies are out of test and they say that it might take weeks before they get any more.

NHS chiefs support cutting the self-isolation time to FIVE days in case of staffing crisis. 

An NHS leader today revealed he would support slashing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis that has engulfed hospitals and led some to cancel routine operations. 

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts, said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the situation was ‘desperate’ and any way of getting staff back to work was a ‘good thing’. However, he stated that having infectious staff returning to their wards would only exacerbate Omicron.

Ministers reduced self-isolation to seven days in December, provided someone tests negative with a lateral stream on days six or seven. Boris Johnson is being pressured to follow in the footsteps of the US which reduced quarantine from five to five days for those without symptoms. 

Today, business leaders begged Prime Minister David Cameron to end self-isolation. They warned they are ‘under strain’ like never before and said that seven days was too long for triple-jabbed people. 

One in ten NHS staff are believed to be sick, or to have self-isolating issues. Mr Johnson announced yesterday that plans are in place to call in the Army to help if things get worse. 

Because it didn’t have enough paramedics, one ambulance trust started asking stroke victims and patients suffering from life-threatening heart attacks to be taken to the hospital.   

Former president of Infection Prevention Society Ms Cattini called for this issue to be addressed ‘urgently’ and warned that the rule was a ‘great driver of bed pressure’.

The HSJ reported that the issue has been raised with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and NHS England national directors. 

A London hospital consultant added: ‘So many patients are turning positive at day one/two/three/four — admitted as non-Covid but incubating Covid — that it is causing devastation because of contacts and blocked beds.

It is so much more difficult to manage Delta than it is to control. [high] infectivity… [Trusts]are required to use different strategies and conduct risk assessments.

According to the consultant, hospitals have ‘no Covid or non-Covid capacity’.

According to a senior hospital consultant, it causes another problem for the management of beds as there are more patients than usual that must be separated.

“This problem grows because the care homes don’t accept patients until they have completed their 14-day waiting period, which can delay discharge.

UKHSA spokeswoman said that the current guidance was in place to limit Covid’s spread to NHS staff and vulnerable individuals. 

“We will continue to partner with NHSEI in reviewing the guidance, and we will make any necessary changes.

This is because hundreds of care homes across the country have been forced to shut down for new residents due to Omicron-fuelled staffing shortfalls and Covid epidemics.

Some 70 per cent of homes run by the MHA — one of the UK’s largest not-for-profit care homes — are currently not accepting new residents, or 62 out of 84 homes.

And at Four Seasons Health Care — one of the country’s largest providers — 40 per cent of homes are not taking patients, or 54 out of 135 homes. 

MailOnline received information from sources within the sector that indicated that about a third (33%) of all homes in America are not able to accommodate new residents as a result of Covid regulations.

Under current rules, homes cannot take on new patients for 28 days after they have detected an outbreak of the virus — when two or more cases are detected.

Top NHS officials warned that having too many crisis homes could cause hospitals to be unable discharge patients or free up space. 

The care bodies have called on the ministers to decrease the quarantine period. In England, self-isolation is possible after 7 days, if there are two negative lateral flow test.