Troops are to 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 capital, which has been the epicenter of the Omicron epidemic with a huge upsurge in cases.
The announcement comes after Boris Johnson said this week that ministers hope 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 ill 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 of greatest need.
They are expected to be “on the job” for the next three weeks.
In addition, 32 military co-sponsors are provided to support the South Central Ambulance Service, working alongside paramedics through the end of March.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘The men and women of our armed forces are rallying once again to support their dedicated NHS colleagues as they work hand in hand to protect the nation from Covid-19 .
“They have shown their worth time and time again throughout this pandemic, whether it’s driving ambulances, administering vaccines or supporting patients in hospital, and they should be proud of their contribution. to this truly national effort. ”
However, 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 to try 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 as of Thursday 17 hospital trusts in England had declared critical incidents – an alert to signal that there are fears that priority services may not be provided in completely safe.
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. on Thursday.
Meanwhile, there are signs schools are also coming under pressure, with a third of school leaders reporting staff absence rates of over 10% for Covid-related reasons, according to a union survey NAHT.
The snap poll found the overwhelming majority (95%) had students absent due to Covid at the start of the term, while 29% said more than 10% of their students were absent.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, warned that schools were “on the brink” with considerable shortages, adding that absences due to illness could “very likely increase” during the term.
Meanwhile, the Welsh government has said the Alert 2 measures introduced after Christmas – including limits on mixing people – will remain in place for at least a week.
Following the latest regulatory review, Prime Minister Mark Drakeford said the country faces a “difficult month ahead” as cases, which have reached their highest levels on record, are expected to rise further.