NHS England has 6,000 spare beds for Covid patients, a health minister revealed today as they shot down health bosses’ calls for the Government to enact its winter ‘Plan B’.
Edward Argar insisted that hospitals still have a ‘degree of headroom’ despite rising case numbers and growing pressure in the health service for face masks, vaccine passports and other measures to be introduced.
Mr Argar said that bed occupancy was one of the key measures being kept under review now that the vaccines have taken the emphasis away from infections.
And daily Covid hospital admissions, which are also rising, have become slightly less reliable now because of mass testing in hospitals.
It means patients coming into the NHS for other conditions or injuries and testing positive are included in the daily measure.
Mr Argar revealed that while about 7,000 beds are currently occupied by Covid patients, a further 6,000 were unoccupied.
But MailOnline’s analysis of the latest NHS data has revealed that just over half of the country’s hospitals are already at 90 per cent or more capacity, which may be causing anxiety about the growing epidemic.
Hospitals which are more than 85 per cent full do not perform as safely or effectively, according to NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson.
Admissions are rising in 93 out of 153 trusts (61 per cent), amid record backlogs for treatment caused by the pandemic. In comparison they are falling in just 42 (27 per cent).
Overall, Covid admissions increased 36.63 per cent in England in the seven days up to Tuesday, the latest date data is available for.
Not all admissions recorded as for Covid are people coming into hospitals specifically for the virus. They include people who came in with unrelated matters and tested positive and some people who caught the virus while in hospital
PATIENTS IN HOSPITAL: There are currently just over 6,300 Covid patients being treated for the virus in hospitals in England
PATIENTS ON MECHANICAL VENTILATION BEDS: 750 Covid patients are currently on mechanical ventilation beds in England
The biggest increase in Covid inpatients was seen in University Hospital Southampton, which saw admissions increase 12-fold from just one to 13 during the past week.
It was followed by Blackpool Teaching Hospitals (700 per cent), Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (700 per cent) and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust (600 per cent).
How vaccines have blunted our Covid crisis: Death rates among over-65s are BELOW average
Death rates for over-65s in England and Wales have dipped below pre-pandemic levels thanks to the success of the Covid vaccine rollout, data revealed today.
Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IfoA) figures show the mortality rate in people aged 65-85 in September was 0.66 per cent lower than average. In over-85s it was even lower at 1.7 per cent below levels seen during the same month over the past 10 years.
But the data suggests a ‘two-tier’ pandemic may be starting to appear, with deaths in September — before cases began to kick off — at 7.5 per cent above normal levels in adults aged 45-64.
Experts claimed the low rates seen in the elderly are proof that vaccines have helped to stop serious disease from taking hold.
They said the spike in deaths seen during the darkest days of the second wave in January has now been offset because those who were most vulnerable are likely to have died in the winter, with the majority of over-65s who survived the peak now protected.
Cobus Daneel, chairman of the IFoA’s continuous mortality investigation (CMI) mortality projections committee, said vaccinating ‘the more vulnerable first undoubtedly saved more lives overall and reduced strain on the NHS’.
Among trusts that were treating at least ten patients, the biggest increases were in East Sussex Healthcare Trust (90.9 per cent), Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust (75 per cent) and Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (63.6 per cent).
Regionally, London hospitals saw the largest increase in Covid inpatients at 83 per cent.
The North West saw saw the next most (48.2 per cent), followed by the South West (47.9 per cent) and South East (32.4 per cent).
But despite the numbers, Mr Elgar told Times Radio today: ‘We do have a degree of headroom at this time, we continue to monitor it hour by hour, day by day, to see what’s happening with those figures, both in terms of infection, but also crucially in terms of hospitalisation.
‘Our assessment at the moment is the most effective way to continue to control that is for people to get those booster jabs.’
For now, ministers have rejected further control measures from Plan B, including vaccine passports for indoor events and the return of mandatory face coverings.
The Government has put the onus on the public, saying further restrictions may be needed if people do not get booster jabs.
Speaking on Sky News today, Mr Argar defended the Government’s position, adding: ‘While under huge pressure at the moment, and I pay tribute to all those working in it (the NHS), it is a sustainable pressure at the moment.’
Asked how bad the situation in the NHS will have to get before the Government moves to Plan B, he said it would not ‘be appropriate to set an arbitrary figure, X number of infections, X number of hospitalisations’.
He added: ‘We need to look at all this in the round, we need to look at the death rate, absolutely.
‘We need to look at that booster rollout programme, vaccination rates in young people, the 12 to 15-year-olds, because we’re seeing in that school-age population, that’s where we’re seeing actually the biggest increases driving these infections.’
While the Government has insisted it has no plans to enact the plan yet, it emerged today that heightened support is to be delivered to areas which have consistently had Covid infection rates above the national average.
Four local authorities — Leicester, Bolton, Luton and Blackburn and Darwen — will be subject to surge testing and targeted vaccination programmes. Another 15 areas have been earmarked for the support package.
Councils in those areas have been told they are due to receive the support but have not been given an official start date.
The Enduring Transmission Area (ETA) support was outlined in the Government’s 33-page Plan B strategy document published last month.
It defined ‘enduring transmission’ as places recording infection rates above the English average for a prolonged period of time.