Some 200 Armed Forces personnel are being deployed to support the NHS in London as hospitals grapple with staff shortages.

Military medics will assist NHS doctors and nurses with patient care, while general duty personnel will help fill gaps caused by other absences.

The Royal College of Nursing has said the deployment means the government can no longer deny there is a “staffing crisis” within the NHS.

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Patricia Marquis, the RCN’s director for England, said: “The prime minister and others can no longer be dismissive of questions about the ability of NHS staff to deliver safe care.

“Once the military has been brought in, where does the government turn next in a bid to ‘ride out’ the wave rather than deal with it?”

As of Thursday, 17 hospital trusts in England have declared critical incidents – signalling there are fears that priority services cannot be safely delivered.

Also yesterday, MPs on the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee warned 5.8 million people are now waiting for treatment – with Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt urging the government to “wake up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS”.

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London has been hard hit by the Omicron outbreak, and the Ministry of Defence says the 200 military personnel will be “on task” for three weeks.

Separately, 32 military co-responders are being provided to support the South Central Ambulance Service – working alongside paramedics until the end of March.

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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The men and women of our Armed Forces are once again stepping up to support their dedicated colleagues in the NHS as they work hand-in-hand to protect the nation from COVID-19.

“They have shown their worth time and again throughout this pandemic, whether driving ambulances, administering vaccines or supporting patients in hospital, and they should be proud of their contribution to this truly national effort.”

About 1,800 service personnel are already deployed across the UK to support the civil authorities in their response to the pandemic.

They include 313 personnel assisting the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust and 96 with the Scottish Ambulance Service, while more than 1,000 are helping the vaccine booster programme.

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New data from the UK Health Security Agency reveals the epicentre of the current COVID outbreak has moved from London to the North West of England – and greater numbers of older people are being admitted to hospital.

The latest daily figures show another 179,756 COVID cases and 231 deaths have been reported in the UK.

Nationwide, the number of cases in the last seven days (1,272,131) is up almost 30% on the previous week, while deaths (1,094) are up by more than 56%.

The latest count of COVID patients in hospital is 17,988, which is up on the 17,276 last reported. Of those, 875 require ventilation beds, down from 911.