Local MPs have expressed 'extreme concern' at the news that Tameside Hospital and 16 others across Greater Manchester are postponing non-urgent surgery and appointments.
A huge hike in staff absences and a sharp rise in the number of people being admitted to hospitals with Covid-19 were the main reasons given for the significant announcement made by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership on Tuesday evening (4 January).
Around 15 per cent of the region's workforce are off either ill with Covid or isolating, while more than one in five patients in some hospitals in the region have the virus. Health chiefs expect the challenges may "get worse, not better" within the next fortnight.
Denton MP Andrew Gwynne, who became a shadow public health minister last month, said it was "extremely concerning" and confirmed that the shadow health secretary will be raising the matter in the House of Commons on Wednesday (5 January).
"The impact of Omicron on our NHS is clear," Gwynne tweeted. "Non-urgent elective care is now paused across Greater Manchester at hospitals. It’s extremely concerning and will add to an NHS backlog that was already at record levels before the pandemic began.
"The Government needs to be honest about the pressure the NHS is under and what they plan to do about it and people and MPs will certainly want reassurance that our local hospitals are able to maintain safe staffing levels and guarantee patient safety.
"I am monitoring the situation and the Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, will be raising the situation in the Commons tomorrow (Wednesday). And lastly, a huge thank you to our NHS staff who are trying to keep the show on the road as Covid is clearly hitting them hard."
Gwynne's fellow Tameside MP Angela Rayner, who is also Labour's deputy leader, is calling for an 'urgent plan' to be formulated to enable safe staffing levels and patient safety.
The Ashton-under-Lyne MP said: “It’s clear that Omicron is having a huge impact on our NHS and the announcement that there will be delays to non-urgent elective care will no doubt cause fear, distress and frustration for some of my constituents.
“There was already a backlog before the pandemic began and this pause will only add to the pressure for our NHS. An urgent plan needs to be put into place to ensure safe staffing levels and patient safety at Tameside General and other hospitals across the North West.
“This decision will not have been taken lightly and I would like to thank our hardworking and dedicated NHS staff for everything they do to keep us all safe.”
Non-urgent elective care has now been paused at Tameside Hospital and 16 others across Greater Manchester
Meanwhile, Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds has also said he is "extremely alarmed" by the development in Greater Manchester.
"I know just how frustrating this will feel for affected patients and their families," the Labour MP added.
"This is an extremely concerning development that will add to an NHS backlog that was at already at record levels before the pandemic began. The Government need to be honest about the pressure the NHS is under and what they plan to do about it.
"People will want reassurance that our local hospitals are able to maintain safe staffing levels and guarantee patient safety.
"As Greater Manchester MPs, we are monitoring the situation closely and liaising with our colleagues in the Shadow Health team who will be asking questions of the Government in the House of Commons tomorrow (Wednesday)."
Earlier on Tuesday, Boris Johnson said cases are going up but Omicron is milder than previous variants and the booster programme is going well so he does not think further restrictions are needed immediately.
In a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister said that the UK "has a chance to ride out the Omicron wave without shutting down our country again".
Mr Johnson said that, despite record daily coronavirus cases over the past week, he will keep plan B in place and not immediately bring in more restrictions in England.
He said Omicron is milder and while hospital admissions are rising quickly, they are not translating into the same numbers being admitted to intensive care and the massive numbers of people who have had a booster means the UK will "find a way to live with the virus".