Sickness rates at hospitals in Suffolk and north Essex continue to rise with 1,200 staff currently off - at a time when they are already under pressure.

At East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, 878 of the 11,300-strong workforce were off sick yesterday - lower than the 936 recorded on December 23 but a figure that is continuing to rise.

Of those off sick, 520 have either tested positive for Covid or isolating while they awaited a test result.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: "Our staff are being fantastic and whilst it is challenging we are managing through."

At West Suffolk Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Bury St Edmunds the latest figures show there were 343 absences on December 26, with 146 linked to Covid.

Both trusts recently closed their hospitals to visitors due to the high level of Covid cases in the community.

The government has admitted that the health service is facing a “difficult time” with wide-spread absences caused by Covid compounding the usual winter pressures.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the staffing situation in hospitals is “almost impossible” as leaders try to manage their resources.

He told Times Radio that, for many, “the most pressing element of all” is the number of staff who are absent due to Covid.

He added that hospital admissions seem to have “perhaps plateaued in London or there may be a second peak after the new year now, but it’s rising across the rest of Britain”.

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said at least “half a dozen” NHS hospitals have declared a critical incident as they try to respond to Covid.

Officials in Whitehall are keeping an “extremely close eye” on hospital capacity, with admissions and occupancy “increasing significantly”, Downing Street said.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’re not seeing that same jump in beds requiring ventilation, which is pleasing, and almost certainly a function of both the nature of Omicron and our successful booster programme.”