Hospital beds in a corridor

As MPs back national lockdown, where does the NHS currently stand?

A third national lockdown has received approval from MPs in Parliament, with the strict ‘stay at home’ messaging part of a plan of steps to help support and protect the NHS during a difficult period ahead. But just how serious is the situation?

It’s been the inescapable narrative around the UK Covid-19 response in recent days; the idea that the health service will soon be faced with more coronavirus patients than it can effectively manage with its current capacity.

And while there is cause to argue on either side of the divisive situation, there is one thing which rings true no matter a person’s viewpoint: the NHS is under severe pressure, at a time when it already annually faces significant challenges.

Just today, health services in Sussex and Surrey have rolled out their ‘major incident’ plans, while thousands of routine and elective surgeries have been cancelled or temporarily suspended around the country – particularly impacting NHS trusts in London, Essex and Kent.

At present, London and the South East of England are worst affected by Covid-19 infections.

Dr Vin Diwakar was quoted as saying in a briefing that the sheer numbers of people becoming seriously unwell with Covid could see the capital’s hospitals facing a shortfall of anything between 1,932 and 5,422 beds by January 19, 2021.

But the impacts are being felt by health services across the country, with the West Midlands Ambulance Service this week reporting a record number of calls being dealt with in a 24-hour period. Dealing with 5,383 calls, it led to ambulances force to queue and wait to hand over patients at the region’s hospitals, with a very small number of patients waiting more than four hours to be transferred into the care of hospital staff.

That situation, described as a “very challenging day” to the BBC, saw handovers accounting for 759 hours of crews’ time – or the equivalent of taking 63 ambulance off the road.

And the situation could yet get worse before it gets better.

According to the official UK Government figures for Covid-19 infections and deaths yesterday, there were 62,322 new infections and 1,041 deaths – the first time since April the daily deaths have exceeded the 1,000 totals.

It is theorised that this could represent the beginning of the effects of mixing during the shortened festive period, as there is usually a “lag” in infection rates and deaths. However, following strict measures having been put in place to restrict movement and mixing during this period, it is hoped it will not transpire to be as severe of a spike as first anticipated.

With the national vaccination programme continuing to build up speed – something Prime Minister Boris Johnson described in his address as a “clear route” through the crisis – the need for people to respect the restrictions and measures now committed to law and come together to minimise risks to oneself and others is essential.

The lockdown restrictions backed by MPs will be in place for at least the coming weeks, with regulations allowing the lockdown to be in place until the end of March.

Mr Johnson said if the vaccination programme could progress fast enough, it may allow restrictions to be eased “by the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails”, but was unwilling to commit to a specific date for the easing of restrictions.

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NHE July/August 21

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NHE365 Virtual Festival: Net-Zero NHS

As was outlined by Sir Simon Stevens when the NHS announced their green plans back in 2020, 5,700 lives could be saved each year by improved air quality. Even more could see their overall health improve and be in a position to self-manage their conditions, rather than requiring NHS treatment. Covid-19 has already left the NHS with a sizeable treatment backlog, so anything which can be done to improve patient health and reduce demand is beneficial for all.

Working together, we can help the NHS realise its green ambitions as per the Net-Zero National Health Service report and its ambitious 2040 target. Join us on August 25, 2021 for our Net-Zero NHS event, where we will be joined by health sector leaders and innovators for a day of sharing best practice and networking.

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