News, Culture & Society

NHS chiefs call for the return of masks and limits on indoor mixing

Health chiefs want Britons to follow a string of new Covid measures to fight record infection rates in the UK and ease pressure on the NHS.

NHS Confederation accused No10 of ‘abandoning any interest in Covid whatsoever’, warning that hospitals are set to deal with a ‘brutal Easter as bad as any winter’.

The group, which acts as a representative for hospitals and ambulance trusts, called for ‘mitigating actions’ to stop the spread of the virus, such as not meeting people indoors and wearing masks in crowded spaces.

It comes just weeks after Covid restrictions, including the legal requirement to self-isolate, were scrapped under Boris Johnson’s ‘living with Covid’ plan. And England’s £2billion-a-month mass-testing scheme was scrapped at the start of April.

The easing of rules has coincided with infection rates spiralling to the highest levels seen throughout the pandemic, with one in 13 people estimated to be infected at the start of the month. 

Health bosses say the situation — fuelled by rising Covid rates and staff sickness — is impacting its ability to tackle the record backlog of patients needing care. 

Millions of patients have already been told to stay away from busy A&E units unless they are genuinely dying, while ambulance services have urged some to make their own way to hospital.  

The number of virus-infected patients in hospital last week breached 20,000 — the highest since February 2021. Although, figures also show thousands aren’t primarily ill with the virus.

The NHS Confederation accused the Government of ‘abandoning any interest in Covid whatsoever’ as hospitals are set to deal with a ‘brutal Easter as bad as any winter’

 

Confederation boss Matthew Taylor said: 'NHS leaders report a clear disconnect between the Government's Living with Covid plan and the realities at the NHS front line'

Confederation boss Matthew Taylor said: ‘NHS leaders report a clear disconnect between the Government’s Living with Covid plan and the realities at the NHS front line’

England’s outbreak has PEAKED, massive testing survey suggests 

England’s Covid resurgence has finally peaked — even though more people are currently infected than ever, the country’s most respected surveillance report suggests.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysts estimate 4.1million people in England had Covid in the week ending April 2.

Although the highest toll recorded since the pandemic began, it’s only 0.5 per cent higher than last week. Experts today hailed the figures as the ‘first sign infections have plateaued’.

In the worst-hit parts of the country — Plymouth, Torbay and South Hams — up to one in 10 people were carrying the virus, according to the testing survey.

ONS bosses admitted that ‘while infections remain high’, cases ‘may no longer be increasing in some parts of the UK’.

Experts say England’s latest surge was driven by the more transmissible version of Omicron, scientifically named BA.2. Ministers also admit that ditching the final Covid restrictions last month also fueled the uptick.

The ONS figures, based on swabs of 100,000 people, suggest that the downturn seen in the official numbers over the past week is genuine and not entirely down to the end of mass testing. Scientists and Tory MPs want the daily updates scrapped because they are now almost meaningless. 

‘The brutal reality for staff and patients is that this Easter in the NHS is as bad as any winter,’ said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation. 

‘But instead of the understanding and support NHS staff received during 2020 and 2021, we have a Government that seems to want to wash its hands of responsibility for what is occurring in plain sight in local services up and down the country.

‘No10 has seemingly abandoned any interest in Covid whatsoever.

‘NHS leaders and their teams feel abandoned by the Government and they deserve better.’

‘Mitigating actions’ — including not meeting people indoors and wearing masks in crowded spaces — were needed to prevent the spread of the virus, the group said.

It also said the Conservatives needed to have a ‘public information campaign’ to ask people to stay away from A&E unless they have an emergency.

Overcrowded A&E rooms are suffering from staff shortages, with data showing up to three per cent of staff in the NHS have coronavirus.

And delays to ambulance handovers, which are supposed to take 15 minutes, are at their highest level this year, with a quarter of patients forced to wait for at least 30 minutes to be admitted.  

The organisation said that in the last week alone 20 emergency departments in England have been forced to turn patients away as they issued ‘diverts’ due to being too full.

Trusts across Yorkshire last week claimed the pressures left them with no choice but to prioritise patients in ‘genuine, life-threatening situations’. 

And Dr Derek Sandeman, chief medical officer at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Integrated Care System, last week pleaded with families to take their Covid-infected relatives home to free up beds as trusts battle a ‘perfect storm’ of pressures. 

The NHS Confederation also questioned whether plans to tackle the record backlog of care are realistic.

One in nine people in England were waiting for routine treatment — such as joint replacement and cataract surgery — or diagnostic tests by the end of January. 

Meanwhile, ministers should reconsider asking the NHS to foot the bill for Covid tests for staff – estimated to cost the NHS ‘several hundred million pounds’ which is being taken away from patient care.

Mr Taylor said that the nation was ‘behaving as if this pandemic is over, but it is not over in relation to the challenges facing the health service’.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘There is a lack of awareness of engagement pressures the health service is under and it’s particularly felt in hospitals at the ambulance service, but it’s actually across the system as a whole. 

The graph shows the number of Covid hospital patients in England (blue line), of which there were 16,587 yesterday, and the number in mechanical ventilation beds, which was 317 yesterday

The graph shows the number of Covid hospital patients in England (blue line), of which there were 16,587 yesterday, and the number in mechanical ventilation beds, which was 317 yesterday

Some 16,587 infected people were in beds in England yesterday morning, the highest figure since January 17 and six per cent higher than one week earlier. However, NHS data shows just 42 per cent of those in hospital were admitted because they were primarily unwell with the virus (blue line)

Some 16,587 infected people were in beds in England yesterday morning, the highest figure since January 17 and six per cent higher than one week earlier. However, NHS data shows just 42 per cent of those in hospital were admitted because they were primarily unwell with the virus (blue line)

HOW LONG IS THE NHS BACKLOG IN ENGLAND? 

NHS waiting lists for routine operations hit another record high of 6.1million in January.

An additional 30,000 people were on the list for routine operations such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery in January compared to December.

The 6.1million toll is 2million higher than when the pandemic hit, when NHS elective care was effectively frozen for months. 

The number of people waiting over a year to start treatment increased to 311,528 in January, up from around only 1,400 before Covid hit.

The Government and NHS England have vowed to eliminate all waits of more than a year by March 2025 as part of their pandemic recovery plan. The health service will get an extra £12billion a year from April, funded by the 1.25 per cent hike to national insurance.

Almost 24,000 have been waiting at least two years for treatment, up from 20,065 in December, and over nine times the 2,608 who were waiting in April 2021.

These patients will be contacted by the end of the month to be offered alternative appointments in places where queues aren’t as long or in private hospitals. Their transport and accommodation fees will be covered. 

‘Because although we’re much better at dealing with Covid, with fewer people dying and ending up in intensive care, it is still a disease that puts immense pressure on the health service.

‘It is adding to the demand which already exists – partly to do with the number of people who are waiting for treatment.

‘So we have a situation in our health service now which is as bad as any winter, even though we’re approaching Easter and it’s really important that we understand that this has happening.

‘In our view, we do not have a “living with Covid” plan, we have a “living without restrictions” ideology, which is different. We need to put in place the measures that are necessary to try to alleviate the pressures on our health service while this virus continues to attack.’ 

But hospital data shows Covid daily admissions and the number of infected patients in hospital are falling or flattening out.

Latest hospitalisation data for the UK shows 2,406 infected people were admitted to hospitals across the UK last Monday, down 4.1 per cent in a week.

And England alone logged 2,176 admissions on Wednesday, down 7.6 per cent in a week.

Meanwhile, there were 20,331 Covid patients in hospital in the UK on Thursday, up 3.4 per cent week-on-week, and 16,366 people were in wards in England, up 2.5 per cent.

Yet more than half of ‘Covid’ patients in hospital are primarily being treated for other reasons, like a broken leg, other data shows. 

And the virus is not the underlying cause of death in up to a third of all fatalities. 

It comes after figures from the Office for National Statistics on Friday showed a record 4.1million people in England, equivalent to 7.6 per cent of the population, were infected in the week to April 2. 

The number, based on swabs of 100,000 people across the country, is the highest ever recorded by the surveillance survey. 

But it is less than 0.5 per cent higher than one week earlier, suggesting the latest Omicron resurgence has finally peaked. 

ONS bosses admitted that ‘while infections remain high’, cases ‘may no longer be increasing in some parts of the UK’.

The figures have become the best way of measuring the state of the UK’s outbreak since the end of free mass testing, which scientists and ministers have warned are almost meaningless. 

England’s mass swabbing regime — thought to cost up to £2billion-a-month — was ditched under Boris Johnson’s ‘living with Covid’ blueprint.

It marked one of the final steps on the route back to normal life, after mandatory self-isolation rules were scrapped in mid-February.

Workers who test positive no longer have to legally self-isolate, although they are still advised to ‘stay at home and avoid contact with other people’. The NHS also says that they should take ‘extra care’ to avoid making contact with anyone at higher risk of the virus.

But union bosses have warned the scrapping of free tests — combined with an expansion to the list of symptoms — will trigger a ‘free for all’ of staff absences.

Last week Mr Johnson admitted that he ‘can’t rule out’ plunging the UK into a Covid lockdown again in the future, despite only just releasing the nation from two years of crippling on-off restrictions. 

The Prime Minister previously promised the route back to normality was ‘irreversible’, seemingly consigning draconian stay-at-home orders to history.

But the PM has now said it would be ‘irresponsible’ for the Government not to keep a blanket shutdown in its virus-fighting playbook. He added: ‘I’m not going to take any options off the table.’

In an interview with GB News, Mr Johnson added: ‘I want to avoid any such thing ever happening again.’

However, he insisted any decision on bringing back curbs must get the balance right between prioritising public health and saving lives.

A spokesperson for Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘The success of our vaccination and antivirals programmes alongside increased public understanding on managing risk means we can start living with Covid – with public health guidance and free testing focused on groups who are most at risk from the virus.

‘We are incredibly grateful to NHS staff and we have set out our plan to tackle the Covid backlog and deliver long term recovery and reform, backed by our record multibillion-pound investment over the next three years.

‘We are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by 2024, there are over 4,300 more doctors compared to last year, and we are investing hundreds of millions in growing the workforce.’

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk