Calls are mounting for the Government to ensure NHS staff are prioritised for Covid-19 tests as latest figures show a surge in the number of patients in hospital with the virus.
Ministers have been told health workers should come first when trying to access rapid tests amid concerns over staff shortages linked to Covid-19.
There were 11,898 Covid-19 patients in UK hospitals as of 8am on December 29, Government data shows, up 44% compared to the previous week, and the highest number since March 2.
In addition, there has been a 34% week-on-week increase in Covid-19 UK hospital admissions – with 1,152 on December 24, the latest date for which data is available.
In England alone, the number of patients in hospital has climbed to its highest level since February.
A further 189,213 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Thursday, the Government said, another new record for daily reported cases.
The total included reported figures for Wales covering a two-day period.
NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson reportedly warned that daily data on Covid-19 hospitalisations should be interpreted with care.
He told the Times that the absence of large numbers of seriously ill older people was providing “significant reassurance”, although they could change after the Christmas period.
And he said: “Trust CEOs know that the government has a high threshold to cross before it will introduce extra restrictions and can see why, in the absence of that surge of severely ill older people, that threshold hasn’t been crossed yet.”
The latest data comes as the Government said it has met its target of offering every eligible adult in England a booster jab by the end of the year.
However, health leaders have warned up to 40% of booked appointments are no-shows, and some vaccination clinics are only a third full.
Meanwhile, concerns persist over difficulty accessing Covid tests across the country.
The public has faced issues ordering online tests in recent days, while pharmacies have also complained about patchy supplies of lateral flow kits.