Virus hotspot moving from London to northwest and northeast
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said that he believes the health service will avoid collapse under the pressure of thousands of Covid patients on top of the regular winter demands.
But he said it would be wrong for ministers to under-estimate the degree of difficulty which trusts are facing.
Mr Hopson’s comments come as cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi accepted that the NHS faces “a rocky few weeks”, but insisted that the government was doing everything possible to ensure it was able to “ride out this bump” caused by the Omicron variant.
Speaking to BBC1’s Sunday Morning, the NHS Providers boss said that the situation in initial Omicron hotspot London was now “stabilising”, with the epicentre now moving to the northwest and northeast of England.
“If you look outside London, then there’s no doubt the NHS frontline is going to be stretched perilously thin,” said Mr Hopson.
“But because we are a national health service, one trust can help another, so I think that the frontline will hold.
“But we should not underestimate the degree of pressure trusts are seeing.”
The director of public health for London, Kevin Fenton, said it appeared the capital had passed the peak of Omicron cases around New Year’s Day, but as many as one in 10 residents are still infected with the variant.
He told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “We think we may have passed or are at the peak.
“Data from the ONS (Office des statistiques nationales) suggests that the peak may have occurred at or just about the New Year period.
“We’re seeing reductions in overall case rates across the city and the prevalence of infection within the community.
“But remember that infection levels are still very, very high. The ONS figures suggest that nearly one in 10 Londoners are still infected with the with the disease.
“So it means that we’re not yet out of this critical phase of the pandemic, although we may well be past the peak.”
Mr Hopson said: “What we’ve got is this combination of three things at once – we’ve got rising Covid cases, we’ve got rising staff absence, significantly due to COVID. But we’ve also got on top of that the ordinary winter pressures.
“This fortnight is the busiest fortnight in the NHS calendar. The combination of those three things at once and it is causing very, very significant pressure.
“Each individual place will have its own dynamics. In some places is the volume (of cases) that’s very difficult, in other places it’s the sheer volume of staff absences.
“You can see from the number of critical incidents that got declared last week that, à certains endroits, this is really difficult.”
The NHS Providers chief executive added: “We had a very, very stretched workforce before Covid hit. Nous avons eu 100,000 staff vacancies.
“What we’re now finding is that for some of our staff, cette 18 months on top of all of that is being very, very difficult. We have to have a long-term workforce plan for the NHS.
“It’s really important that the government should accept an amendment that’s coming into the House of Lords to ensure that we get long-term workforce planning. Sinon, we’re going to have more and more burnt-out doctors, more and more burnt- out nurses more and more burnt-out frontline staff.
“We have to get the right number of people in the NHS providing the care that’s needed so we don’t give our staff an impossible workload day in day out.”