NHS chief says hospitals are preparing for a second wave of Covid-19

NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens says hospitals are preparing for a second wave of Covid-19 and the UK will need ‘biggest EVER’ flu vaccine programme as he reveals health service feared in March it would be overrun by TWO MILLION coronavirus patients

  • Simon Stevens said today that the health service is readying for another crisis
  • He said it was ‘entirely possible’ that a surge in cases would coincide with flu
  • Test and Trace will need to be ‘very rigorous’ by the time this happens, he said
  • And plans are emerging for huge numbers of people to be given flu jab 

The NHS is bracing itself for a second wave of Covid-19 later this year, its chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said today.

Health bosses are already preparing for a resurgence of sick patients and say the ‘biggest ever’ flu vaccination programme will be needed to keep hospitals running.

NHS chiefs feared in March that their hospitals would be overwhelmed with a staggering two million coronavirus patients, 660,000 of whom could have needed intensive care.

Scenes of patients in corridors in hospitals in northern Italy petrified officials in Britain who threw all their efforts into efforts to protect the NHS. 

In reality far fewer Covid-19 patients needed hospital care – a total of 128,737 people have been admitted to wards with the disease so far, with the majority recovering.

But experts say the pandemic is far from over, and many more people are expected to catch the virus in future and regular localised outbreaks are unavoidable. 

Even now, when the virus is at its lowest point for at least four months, up to 3,600 people in England are still catching the coronavirus every day.

Plans are already emerging to vaccinate everyone over the age of 50 – those most at risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19. The jab doesn’t protect against coronavirus but reduces the risk of someone being hospitalised with flu and using up NHS resources.

Chief executive of NHS England, Sir Simon Stevens, said there was ‘considerable concern’ that the NHS would be totally overwhelmed with coronavirus patients in the peak of the epidemic (Pictured: Sir Simon at the NHS Seacole coronavirus treatment centre in Surrey)

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Sir Simon said ‘yes’ the NHS is preparing for a second wave of Covid-19.

‘It is entirely possible that there will be [a second wave],’ he said, ‘particularly if it is coexistent with flu. 

‘The risk is that many of the symptoms are interchangeable so one of the things that we clearly need is a very rigorous testing and tracing service available, the ability to give early warnings to hospitals where there are those local increases, and I think we’re going to need the biggest ever flu immunisation season we’ve ever had. 

‘We don’t know yet whether there will be a Covid vaccine available in time for winter.’ 

SECOND WAVE OF CORONAVIRUS IS A ‘REAL RISK’ FOR UK 

There is a very ‘real risk’ of a second wave of coronavirus striking the UK and the Government must start to prepare for it now, leading medics have warned.

In a letter to the leaders of all of Britain’s political parties, top doctors have called for a rapid review to prepare the country for another crisis. 

Sixteen leading surgeons, doctors, psychiatrists, scientists, nurses, other medical professionals and the editors of Britain’s best medical journals put their names to a letter to officials.

Published in the British Medical Journal, the piece said things needing ‘rapid attention’ are supplies of medical equipment, testing and tracing infrastructure, the disproportionate effect on ethnic minority people, and international co-operation.

They said the Government must get ‘ahead of the curve’ before the virus rebounds and focus on areas of weakness that could be improved while it is in retreat.

In their letter the experts wrote: ‘Several countries are now experiencing Covid-19 flare-ups.

‘While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk. 

‘Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain. 

‘The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide-ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.’

The team said it was ‘crucial’ that a review is carried out so the Government can address exactly what went wrong the first time.

More than 53,000 people are known to have died in this outbreak of the coronavirus in the UK and around 3.3million are thought to have caught the disease (five per cent of the population).

Britain has the worst officially confirmed death toll in Europe, considerably higher than countries like Italy and Spain which were hit earlier.

All political parties should take part in the review and it should not be used to assign blame but to prepare for the future, doctors said.

Experts have repeatedly warned that the coronavirus will return in Britain, but there are hopes that these will be broken down into local, containable surges and will not a require a drastic nationwide lockdown like the one imposed in March.

March’s lockdown, out of which England made its biggest steps yesterday, Saturday July 4, was imposed after officials saw what was happening in Italy.

Scenes of overwhelmed intensive care units and hospital patients struggling to breathe being treated in corridors struck fear into the heart of British officials.

Sir Simon Stevens admitted today that he feared at the time that the UK would face two million people being hospitalised with coronavirus.

A third of these, he said – 660,000 people – might need intensive care according to predictions at the time.

He told Andrew Marr: ‘In March we were looking at what was happening in Northern Italy, we were being advised by the epidemiologists and public health experts, and we could see as many as two million people requiring hospital care of whom perhaps a third might require intensive care.

‘So yes there was considerable concern.

‘If you think about the actions that had to be taken to free up hospital capacity so that in a few short weeks we were able to successfully look after 100,000 coronavirus patients who needed specialist emergency care, that was something that was not inevitable.’

One of the key plans to reducing the impact of a winter wave of Covid-19 is to vaccinate millions of people against flu.

The flu jab could be given for free to everyone over the age of 50, who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if they get coronavirus.

Although the jab won’t protect against Covid-19, it could prevent people getting hospitalised with bad flu – in hospital they would take up beds that could be needed for Covid-19, and may also be at higher risk of catching the virus inside the hospital.

Government advisers on SAGE had recommended that Number 10 contemplate vaccinating the ‘entire population’ against flu, but this was thought to be too difficult.

Insiders said in June that Downing St is planning to buy 10million extra doses for over-50s, which would still be a huge logistical challenge.

One source claimed expanding the scheme could involve Brits getting vaccinated in car parks and at drive-through centres – the same way coronavirus testing is done.

Last winter 25million people in England were offered the flu jab, with officials expanding the annual vaccination programme to include all Year Six children for the first time.

All over-65s, pregnant women, NHS workers and people with serious long-term illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s are eligible for the free jab.

Figures show there are around 10million people aged between 50 and 65 in the UK, meaning the vaccination scheme would have to increase by 40 per cent in size to catch all of them.

Professor Openshaw, part of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said a bad flu season with coronavirus ‘would be a huge burden on the NHS’.

Sir Simon’s comments come after a group of leading medics warned in June that there is a very ‘real risk’ of a second wave of coronavirus striking the UK.

In a letter to the leaders of all of Britain’s political parties, top doctors called for a rapid review to prepare the country for another crisis. 

Sixteen leading surgeons, doctors, psychiatrists, scientists, nurses, other medical professionals and the editors of Britain’s best medical journals put their names to a letter to officials.

Published in the British Medical Journal, the piece said things needing ‘rapid attention’ are supplies of medical equipment, testing and tracing infrastructure, the disproportionate effect on ethnic minority people, and international co-operation.

They said the Government must get ‘ahead of the curve’ before the virus rebounds and focus on areas of weakness that could be improved while it is in retreat. 

In their letter the experts wrote: ‘Several countries are now experiencing Covid-19 flare-ups.

‘While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk. 

‘Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain. 

‘The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide-ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.’ 

The team said it was ‘crucial’ that a review is carried out so the Government can address exactly what went wrong the first time.

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