A senior NHS leader is calling for the return of face masks and social distancing as the health service battles soaring pressure. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, believes action is needed now to curb the spread of coronavirus – with pressures on the health service being a ‘serious worry’.
He told the Sunday Times that while no one is arguing for ‘draconian lockdown restrictions’, there needs to be a rethink about how the country can ‘learn to live with this virus’ while protecting each other. Mr Hopson said: “There is concern across the NHS that the government doesn’t seem to want to talk about coronavirus anymore.
“But we think we need a proper grown-up national debate about what living with Covid actually means.” Mr Hopson believes it is ‘vital’ that ministers take action as soon as possible.
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In a lengthy Twitter thread on Sunday, Mr Hopson outlined ‘four big inter-related challenges’ facing the NHS – the ongoing impact of Covid, urgent and emergency care pressures, the backlogs and staff shortages. Mr Hopson wrote: “Where’s NHS up to?
“Flat out, doing its best for patients, as ever. But struggling with Covid and impact of long term fault lines. Concerning pressure, despite front line effort.”
He added that in an NHS Providers board meeting last week, health leaders ‘agreed this was the longest most sustained period of NHS pressure they had seen in their careers’. He wrote: “Incredibly grateful, yet again, for commitment of staff but… serious worry at the impact that current pressures are having on patients and frontline staff.”
On Twitter, Mr Hopson elaborated on how the four big challenges ‘explain why the service is facing major difficulties as we come out of winter’. The NHS leader wrote: “Much higher levels of Covid prevalence than we were expecting, and anyone had predicted, at this point.
“15,000 patients with Covid in English hospital beds on April 14, compared to 8,210 six weeks earlier. Numbers growing, not falling as we had expected… Majority in hospital with, not because of, Covid.”
Mr Hopson added that the vaccine program meant serious illness and fatalities were lower but ‘operational consequences are the same’. He wrote: “Govt doesn’t seem keen to talk about Covid.
“But vital it does. To explain current pressures on NHS. To explain current risks and what we can all do to mitigate them without returning to restrictions. And to enable NHS to plan properly for further waves we know will come.”
Mr Hospon also warned of ‘very pressured urgent and emergency care pathway’, including ‘worryingly high levels of delays in answering 999 calls, conveying patients to hospital, ambulance handover delays outside hospitals, 12 hour waits in A&E and delays for urgent mental health care ‘. Another challenge he outlined was the current care backlogs, saying the NHS is ‘working flat out’ to get through them and that recent statistics show progress.
However, I have added that current pressures ‘mean majority of trusts are finding it difficult to hit top speed on backlog recovery… As they wanted to, coming out of winter’. Finally, he said the workforce shortages are the ‘biggest challenge of all’ with more than 100,000 vacancies on top of staff absences due to Covid.
Summing up, the NHS leader called ‘unwarranted criticism’ of the NHS ‘a distraction’ and that the health service needs more funding. He wrote: “Current pressures have triggered usual suspects, stage right, suggesting NHS model broken / NHS badly led / NHS inefficient. Of course NHS can improve. Properly funded transformational change program needed – digital, integrated care, 21st century personalized medicine…”
He added: “We need right funding, right size of workforce, right support for social care, right level of NHS capacity to meet growing demand and a funded change programme. To make existing model work. Calls for new model & unwarranted criticism of NHS leaders/efficiency a distraction.”
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