NHS under ‘immense pressure’, UK’s most senior gynaecologist says
Immense pressures facing maternity staff as Covid cases surge could mean the NHS is left unable to deliver “the care it needs to” for women giving birth this winter, the UK’s most senior gynaecologist has warned.
Dr Edward Morris, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told the Guardian that maternity services are near breaking point.
He said the NHS is under “immense pressures” as it continues to battle rising coronavirus cases, waning immunity, a surge in A&E demand and a backlog of patients.
It comes after ministers including health secretary Sajid Javid claimed the recent soar in the number of positive Covid cases has not put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, despite the country recording 40,000 new infections on Sunday.
“The pandemic is far from over and we’re becoming increasingly concerned about the immense pressures facing our maternity staff this winter if the situation continues as it is,” Dr Morris told the Guardian.
He told the newspaper of his concern around the increase in infections potentially leading to the redeployment of maternity staff in hospital, posing a significant threat to the safety of women needing specialist maternity care.
Dr Morris said maternity staff are not able to be replaced by other groups because of their specialist skills.
He added: “We’re also aware of the many women and girls who are suffering with gynaecological conditions that are currently on extensive waiting lists with no end in sight. With the number of Covid cases rising once more, the NHS could soon be in a situation where it is unable to deliver the care it needs to or deal with the huge backlog that has already built up.”
Anxieties in maternal care follow the revelation earlier this month that unvaccinated pregnant women accounted for nearly a fifth of the most severely ill coronavirus patients in England.
Between July and September, 17 per cent of Covid patients who required a special lung bypass machine while in intensive care were mothers-to-be who had not received their first vaccine dose, NHS England said.
It comes after the Independent revealed fears from doctors and nurses that the UK is hurtling towards what is “likely be the hardest winter the NHS has ever had“.
A leaked report from NHS England showed that A&E departments are set to collide with dangerous levels of crowding in coming months, with 60,000 more patients a week.
The document said such increases would mean an extra 60 patients a day at a typical 24-hour A&E unit, with 15 to 20 of them needing a bed, warning of a “significant impact” on crowding and a knock-on effect on routine surgery.
“Clearly, if they keep going up then we move into ‘expectation’ and then potentially we go over ‘expectation’, but they have to keep moving up, and at the current rates of increase, we’re about three or four weeks away from getting into the kind of areas that might well be concerning,” Graham Medley, chair of Spi-M, the government’s scientific committee modelling the spread of Covid-19, told the Independent.
“Double what we’ve got at the moment is going to cause more than double the problems and at the current rate, if it doesn’t change, we are three or four weeks away from doubling.”
With some hospitals planning to turn away patients without life-threatening illness as weekly admissions to hospitals have now reached a seven-month high, leading medical professionals are anxious that the problems currently facing the NHS could come to a head as winter draws in.
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told the Independent: “Even before the pandemic, emergency departments were struggling, a consequence of under-resourcing. Now we are going into what will likely be the hardest winter the NHS has ever had.”
On Friday, minutes from the Sage group of government advisers showed scientists warned ministers to start preparing for “Plan B” – which includes the return of compulsory face masks and working from home – to combat the spread of Covid.
But Mr Johnson is continuing to resist calls from health leaders for tighter Covid restrictions despite rising infections.
The prime minister acknowledged the numbers were “high” but said they were “within the parameters” forecast by scientists advising the Government.
His comments also followed calls from the NHS Confederation and the British Medical Association (BMA) for ministers to activate their winter Plan B for England amid fears the health service could be overwhelmed.