‘Zero-Covid’ scientists today demanded the Government activates its winter ‘Plan B’ to protect the NHS, despite the fact coronavirus cases and hospital admissions are falling.
Independent Sage, a pressure group of eminent experts who’ve pushed for an Australian-style virus elimination strategy, said compulsory masks and widespread WFH were ‘urgently’ needed to ‘save the NHS and Christmas’.
The group — which includes a former Government chief scientific adviser, a Communist Party member and several of No10’s own scientists — claimed ‘very high levels of Covid’ were putting ‘extreme pressure’ on the health service.
Independent Sage’s call to action comes after a swathe of stats laid bare the extent of the crisis within the NHS, with waiting lists for routine care soaring to another high and 999 calls and ambulance waits hitting record levels.
Doctors said that the NHS was being brought ‘to its knees’ with patients being left to die in the back of ambulances and waiting rooms because staff are so busy.
But other experts argue the current Covid situation doesn’t justify moving to Plan B, given that admissions for the virus have fallen for nearly a week straight and are projected to fall even more in the coming weeks.
Covid cases have also been trending down since October 24, in line with the country’s major surveillance study which found a 16 per cent weekly fall last week, and death rates have also started to follow suit.
‘The Government needs to urgently bring in Plan B… The pressure on the NHS is extreme and increasing, the backlog of treatment is at a record high, it needs to act now,’ Independent Sage said.
‘Most importantly, working from home where possible and mandated facemasks in indoor spaces are needed. We also believe additional protective measures should be brought in, including ensuring good ventilation in schools and other public spaces and financial support for self-isolation.’
No10 has said it will only revert to its winter Covid ‘Plan B’ strategy if the NHS faces ‘unsustainable’ pressure, which ministers argue is not the case yet despite health leaders insisting otherwise.
Cambridge University epidemiologist Dr Raghib Ali, who is also an NHS consultant in acute medicine, said the current NHS crisis was not the result of Covid, but a ‘chronic staffing shortage’.
He said reverting to Plan B now would not solve the problem, adding: ‘Although there has often been too much alarmism, this is a genuine problem which is harming many patients… [but] there is no easy short-term solution.’
There are questions about whether the current Covid situation is to blame for the NHS crisis, given that there are half as many Covid inpatients now than this time last year (shown)
Admissions for the virus have fallen for nearly a week straight (shown) with around 800 per day on average now compared to almost 1,600 in November 2020
The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has reached 5.83million, official data revealed on Thursday, marking the eleventh month in a row that the figure has hit a record high. Some 1.6million more Britons were waiting for elective surgery — such as hip and keen operations — at the end of September compared to the start of the pandemic
Despite the total A&E admissions in England being just two per cent more than one month earlier and equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier. It is also five times bigger than in September 2020 and ten times more than the same month in 2019
The NHS has long struggled to meet its recommended ambulance response times for Category 2 incidents which include medical emergencies such as strokes and severe burns but the last few months months have seen unprecedented rise with patients waiting nearly an hour on average for an ambulance after calling 99.
A record number of 999 calls were made in England in October with 1,012,143 urgent calls for medical help made. But the time it took answer these calls also increased to a record 56 seconds
Independent Sage’s Professor Susan Michie, a behavioural expert who also sits on the Government’s official science panel SAGE, slammed Mr Johnson directly.
‘To save the NHS and Christmas, the Government needs to enable behaviours to get our high transmission rates down,’ she said. ‘The PM walking mask less round a hospital with vulnerable patients undermines that effort.’
Professor Michie, a member of Communist Party of Britain for more than 40 years, added: ‘Enabling behaviour change is everyone’s responsibility especially those in positions of authority and influence.
‘The PM walking mask-less round a hospital with vulnerable patients undermines the behaviours needed to keep us all safe.’
Mr Johnson was criticised this week after he was pictured walking through a hospital corridor without a mask in Northumberland on Monday – even though the NHS trust leapt to his defence and claimed he wore one in wards.
Dr Ali said the focus should be on the booster vaccines, which are proven to be highly effective at preventing hospital admissions, rather than masks which only slightly reduce transmission.
He added: ‘Of course there are many other things you can and should do to help yourself (and the pressure on NHS) by taking care of your health but most of these won’t impact in the very short-term hence my focus on the booster jabs which can reduce admissions by 80 per cent within two weeks.’
The demands come after monthly NHS England data published yesterday revealed that the NHS is facing a crisis even without a major surge in Covid.
The Office for National Statistics, which calculates case numbers based on thousands of random swab tests, found 925,400 people in the country were infected on any given day in the week ending November 6. The figure equates to one in 60 people having the virus and is 16.1 per cent lower than the estimated 1,103,300 cases one week earlier, when one in 50 people were infected
No10’s top scientists tracking the R rate — which measures the speed the outbreak is growing at — estimated that it was between 0.8 and 1 in England. This suggests that for every ten people who have the virus, they are passing it on to between eight and 10 others
A record-high 5.83million patients are now on the NHS waiting list for routine treatment, with the mammoth toll having snowballed during the pandemic.
At the same time, the average ambulance response time for heart attack and stroke patients is now nearly an hour, which paramedics admitted is putting patients’ lives ‘at risk’.
And 999 response times for category two calls are now three times above the health service’s 18-minute safety target.
JVT says Covid crisis a ‘lot calmer’ after Easter… but other scientist warns of EIGHT years of misery
Britain’s Covid crisis is set to become ‘a lot calmer’ after Easter, Jonathan Van-Tam predicted today — but other scientists warned it could drag on another eight years.
England’s deputy chief medical officer warned there will be some ‘twists and bumps’ along the way and admitted that the situation was becoming harder to forecast.
But he told a medical conference today: ‘I think, generally speaking, waters will be quite a lot calmer after Easter.’
Professor Van-Tam warned this was dependent on the successful roll out of the booster doses, which are being offered to all over-50s.
His words were in stark contrast to eminent epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector, who warned that it could take years to become a manageable, seasonal virus.
‘We need to be thinking in terms of time scales — it is not in months, it is not by next Christmas, it is a question as to whether it will be three years or eight years,’ he said.
Doctors warned the grim performance figures were ‘concerning’ because winter pressures and staffing absences have yet to hit peak levels.
A poll of NHS bosses found nine in 10 felt the current situation — dealing with the pandemic-induced backlog and Covid — is ‘unsustainable’ and patient care is being compromised.
There have been reports of some elderly Brits having to wait up to 14 hours for an ambulance, and investigations are underway into the deaths of several patients in parked ambulances unable to handover patients to overwhelmed A&Es.
NHS England statistics reveal it took crews nearly 55 minutes to respond to Category 2 calls — including strokes, heart attacks and severe burns — in October, compared to the 18-minute target.
The most urgent incidents, which includes events such as cardiac arrests and life-threatening accidents, also saw record delays last month. Paramedics took, on average, nine minutes and 20 seconds to respond to Category 1 calls, well above the target of seven minutes.
Trade union GMB warned the ambulance wait times showed the NHS was at risk of moving from a winter crisis to a winter catastrophe.
Ambulance leaders described how they are facing the ‘highest level of emergency activity in history’ and raised concerns about the time lost to hospital handover delays.
It came as a poll for the NHS Confederation found that health leaders believe the pressure on the NHS is now at unsustainable levels and patient safety and care are being put at risk by staff shortages.
NHS leaders in England warned the health service has reached ‘tipping point’, with nearly nine in 10 (88 per cent) saying the demands on their organisation are unsustainable.
Almost the same number (87 per cent) said a lack of staffing in the NHS as a whole is putting patient safety and care at risk.
The survey of 451 leaders included those from hospitals, ambulance services, mental health providers, community services and primary care.
But Covid cases in England dropped by 16 per cent last week, leading to questions about the virus is truly behind the NHS pressure.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which calculates case numbers based on thousands of random swab tests, found 925,400 people in the country were infected on any given day in the week ending November 6.
The figure equates to one in 60 people having the virus and is 16.1 per cent lower than the estimated 1,103,300 cases one week earlier, when one in 50 people were thought to be infected.
And cases appear to be dropping in all age groups, most notably among 11 to 16-year-olds, with 4.8 per cent thought to have the virus in the last week, compared to 7.5 in the previous seven days.
It comes as one expert said the drop has been triggered ‘almost entirely by the wall of immunity, rather than behavioural changes or restrictions’.
And separate data published yesterday by the UK’s largest symptom-tracking study revealed cases fell by almost a fifth in the biggest weekly drop since the summer.
Meanwhile, Department for Health data yesterday showed Covid cases increased 14 per cent, marking the first rise in 10 days. But hospitalisations and deaths both fell week-on-week too.
There are about 6,800 Covid patients in English hospitals now compared to more than 12,000 at the same point last year.
Total size of England’s Covid outbreak SHRANK by 16% last week to below 1million, mass-testing study shows
England’s Covid outbreak shrank in size by 16 per cent last week, official figures revealed today as experts hailed the country’s ‘wall of immunity’ for keeping the virus at bay.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), a Government agency which analyses tens of thousands of random tests to track the spread of the infection, estimated 925,400 people were infected on any given day in the week ending November 6.
It equates to one in 60 people being infected and is a marked drop on the calculation of 1,103,300 published last week, which had yet to indicate any downturn despite a swathe of separate data showing England’s outbreak was naturally retreating.
Cases appear to be dropping in all age groups, most notably among 11 to 16-year-olds. But around 4.8 per cent of secondary school pupils were still thought to have been carrying the virus in the last week, compared to roughly 7.5 per cent during half-term week.
Meanwhile, Government advisers today also revealed the R rate has fallen the second consecutive week. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) now estimates the rate stands at between 0.8 and 1, offering more proof that the outbreak is in decline.
One expert claimed the drop has been triggered ‘almost entirely by the wall of immunity, rather than behavioural changes or restrictions’, with the combination of the explosion in cases triggered by schools going back and the country’s vaccination drive credited for the drop.
Separate data published yesterday confirmed the trend. The UK’s largest symptom-tracking study revealed cases fell by almost a fifth in the biggest weekly drop since the summer.
But Department for Health testing statistics yesterday showed Covid cases increased 14 per cent on the previous week, marking the first rise in 10 days. But hospitalisations and deaths both fell week-on-week.