NHS won’t be the service people had previously, health chief says

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive, said: ‘It’s not going to be the service people had previously’

The NHS won’t be able to provide non-emergency care until the government’s track and trace system to halt the spread of coronavirus is up and running, a health chief warned today.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers – which looks after trusts in England – said without an effective system in place hospitals can’t be sure staff aren’t infected. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that the UK would have a ‘world-beating’ test, track and trace system in place by June 1, amid mounting pressure on ministers to stop a second wave of Covid-19.

Ms Cordery told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the test and trace strategy is important to contain local outbreaks, adding that hospitals also need rapid testing for NHS staff and patients and consistent supplies of PPE.

In a stark warning, she said: ‘Without that testing we can’t be clear that staff working on the frontline are safe and not infected and that’s really, really important we get that in place.’

She also admitted it is was ‘absolutely imperative’ the NHS gets started again – but added: ‘We’ve got to be clear that’s going to come relatively slowly and it’s not going to be the service that people had previously.’ 

Officials urged all hospitals to cancel thousands of operations and turf out patients on their wards to make way for a surge in COVID-19 patients early on in the crisis. 

Trust bosses have since been given the green light to resume services that came to a stop in March, with the peak of the first wave of the outbreak having passed. Health leaders last week warned it will take several months before the NHS is able to fully restart services in the face of Covid-19. 

Ms Cordery told BBC Radio 4: ‘We are in a situation where we’ve done astonishingly well to really reconfigure the NHS to manage with this surge in coronavirus cases.

‘But, of course, that comes at a cost and the cost is for those who need other types of treatment. And it’s absolutely imperative that we get the NHS started again in terms of routine operations as far as possible.’

Trust bosses have been given the green light to resume services that came to a stop in March, with the peak of the outbreak having passed. Pictured, a nurse changes bed clothes in Belfast's Mater Hospital's coronavirus recovery ward

Trust bosses have been given the green light to resume services that came to a stop in March, with the peak of the outbreak having passed. Pictured, a nurse changes bed clothes in Belfast’s Mater Hospital’s coronavirus recovery ward

She added the NHS needs a ‘sustainable supply’ of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as effective testing for staff and patients. 

Ms Cordery said: ‘Early on in the crisis the supply of PPE was very challenging indeed but it’s improved substantially. 

‘But it hasn’t become as sustainable as we’d like it because we need more than the current supply of PPE.’

She added that hospitals currently only have a five-day supply of PPE and full-length gowns for patients, as opposed to two weeks’ worth of stock. 

NHS Providers’ chief executive Chris Hopson told The Guardian some hospitals had to wait up to 13 days to get test results back.


Beth Purvis, a 40-year-old mother of two, has stage-four bowel cancer that has spread to her lungs.

But an operation to remove a tumour from her right lung – scheduled for March 25 at the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea, London – was cancelled with only a week’s notice amid the coronavirus crisis.

Mrs Purvis said: ‘I was devastated, I just burst into tears. It is a critical operation because it can help buy me time and there is a small chance it might be cured.

Pictured: Beth Purvis, whose operation to remove a tumour in her right lung was cancelled with a week's notice

Pictured: Beth Purvis, whose operation to remove a tumour in her right lung was cancelled with a week’s notice 

‘If you leave the cancer, it has the opportunity to grow and spread further, I just do not know what it is going to do or how long it is safe to leave it for.’ The operation had offered her and her family some much-needed relief, said Mrs Purvis, from Bishops Stortford, Essex.

‘When you have stage four cancer, every time something pops up you just hope that you can treat it. Each treatment just gives you hope and all that hope had been wiped away.’

Mrs Purvis has now been offered stereotactic body radiotherapy which she was not eligible for before due to the number of tumours in her lungs.

Her doctors feel it is a safer option than surgery because of the risk of catching coronavirus in hospital. She said: ‘It may actually turn out to be a better option in the long run.’

Mrs Purvis said she understood why the decision to cancel her surgery was made, adding: ‘It is a really difficult situation because those of us waiting for operations will probably last a few weeks or months without our operations. Logically and rationally, I understand the decision but emotionally I am completely drained.’

Mrs Purvis said she and husband Richard, a painter and decorator, were up front with their children, Joseph 11, and Abigail, ten. She added: ‘Their worlds have been turned upside down.’

He said this was ‘effectively useless’ to hospitals, with quick results needed to ensure staff don’t unknowingly spread the virus within the NHS to vulnerable patients. 

Mr Hopson said: ‘We can’t restart NHS services as quickly as everyone would like because of the wide range of constraints trusts are facing.

‘My concern about reopening the NHS is that people are massively underestimating how difficult and complex it’s going to be.’

He told The Guardian: ‘People think it’s like flicking a light switch back on again but it absolutely isn’t.

‘It’s fiendishly complicated and will take a lot longer than people think because there are a number of different problems that have to be sorted first. 

‘We need to ensure that hospitals are safe for people without coronavirus who need to be treated, including those who need elective surgery.’

Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, accepted the PPE situation was ‘improving’.

But he added that medics ‘need a guarantee there is adequate equipment to protect all staff before we recommence services’. 

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association’s president said: ‘We can’t risk a further spike of infections among hospital patients. 

Dr Claudia Paoloni added: ‘We are all keen to see hospitals to restart a wider range of NHS services, but not until this can be achieved safely and sustainably.

‘It would be premature and inadvisable to attempt a return to “business as usual” before the testing regime is operating effectively and accurately in all parts of the country and significantly increased supplies of PPE can be guaranteed to protect staff and patients.’ 

Ministers are expected to launch the vaunted new track-and-trace programme this week with an army of 25,000 recruits battling to lead Britain out of the coronavirus crisis.

The plan – to track down those who have been in close contact with Covid-19 victims and isolate them to stop the chain of transmission – will swing into action as ‘part of the largest virtual call centre operation in the country’.

Using a model which has proved effective in other countries and which has been trialled with an app on the Isle of Wight, tracers will contact those who test positive for the virus.

They will then ask them for information about people they have been in prolonged contact with who may have been exposed – most likely household members or workplace colleagues.

It comes amid fears more than 8million people will be stuck on NHS surgery waiting lists by autumn because treatment delays due to Covid-19.

Last August there were a record-high 4.41million patients in England on waiting lists for routine operations, a rise of 250,000 from the same month a year earlier.

But that number is expected to more than double because of a backlog triggered by the Covid-19 crisis, according to the Nuffield Trust think-tank.

Nigel Edwards, the body’s chief executive, earlier this month told MPs that hospitals have only been able to carry out around ’15 to 20 per cent’ of elective procedures.  

His claim came on the back of a separate study by health analysts, which predicted 7.2million people would be on waiting lists by autumn. 

Last month medics warned that up to 2,700 cancers were being missed every week as the numbers being referred had dropped by 75 per cent.

Professor Karol Sikora, a cancer specialist, had warned the impact of the coronavirus outbreak could result in 50,000 cancer deaths.  

A&E attendances in England have also fallen to the lowest figure on record as people stay away from hospitals in the face of coronavirus.  

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