The NHS is just as overstretched and under pressure as it was at the height of the pandemic in January, health service leaders have warned.
NHS Providers, which represents hospital and ambulance trusts, said that despite optimism surrounding a drop in positive cases over the last week, hospital admissions are still rising significantly. With more than 5,000 admissions currently, this is the highest number of people in hospital with Covid since March.
Other factors are leading to the immense strain now facing the NHS, including hospitals facing an acute shortage of thousands of beds at a time when emergency and urgent care departments are experiencing soaring demand. Meanwhile, staff are working flat-out to tackle care backlogs in hospital, community, and mental health services, while facing increasing demand for mental health and long Covid care.
NHS Providers also highlighted that the immense strain is being exacerbated by a large number of staff self-isolating, with increasing numbers also suffering from stress and mental health issues.
NHS staff too have spoken out about their fears as a third wave of the pandemic engulfs the health service. University Hospital of North Tees respiratory medicine consultant Dr Catherine Monaghan told the BBC last week just how worried staff are.
“We are absolutely gutted – it’s really hard – I know the whole country wants this to be over – but the reality is that’s not what is happening in the hospital,” she said.
“People are still critically unwell with it – I cannot quite believe we’re back at this stage again – it’s really worrying.”
As Covid hospital admissions soar, Doctors in Unite (DiU) have spoken out about the need for health service workers to receive adequate PPE. DiU will hold a protest on Tuesday (July 27) evening to call on the health secretary to make high-quality respiratory masks such FFP3s available for all health staff.
Doctors in Unite (DiU) chair and GP Dr Jackie Applebee explained that this was especially vital when there is a unanimous consensus among leading health experts and scientists that Covid-19 is predominantly spread through airborne transmission.
Commenting, Dr Applebee said, “We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand any longer and pretend that airborne transmission is not a risk everywhere, including hospitals wards, outpatient clinics and offices.
“Official guidelines for infection control are not only out of date, they are unfit for purpose,” she added. “With the Delta wave of Covid hitting our hospitals and surgeries right now, all health care staff should be issued respirator masks like FFP3s without further delay.
“This issue should be at the top of health and social care secretary Sajid Javid’s in-tray and he needs to act with the utmost urgency to ensure our brave and dedicated NHS and social care colleagues have the best protective equipment available.”
With all these pressures now facing the health service taken together, NHS Providers warned that adequate funding for the NHS now was absolutely critical, at a time when the health service’s budget for the second half of the year has not yet been finalised. NHS Providers said there was fear that NHS funding would be restricted from October, since many in government have noted the need to repair public finances.
Commenting, NHS Providers CEO Chris Hopson said, “The NHS has delivered in an extraordinary way over the last 18 months, often at the drop of a hat.
“Many NHS chief executives believe the next phase of our fight against COVID-19 is likely to be the hardest yet given the scale and breadth of pressures they face,” he added.
“They are clear that, now more than ever, the NHS must get the funding it needs to win that fight.”
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe agreed.
“The picture that NHS Providers paints is a grim one and is a result of a decade of underspending and underinvestment on the NHS and its staff by the Tories since 2010,” he said. “On top of this the health service has had to grapple with a once-in-a-century pandemic for which it was woefully underprepared for due to ministers’ lack of planning.
“While the vaccine can give us some hope, the pandemic is far from over – hospitalisations are spiking to record levels not seen since March,” Jarrett-Thorpe added. “Our members in health are at the end of their tether – having already witnessed the horrors of the first and second waves of the virus, they stand prepared yet again to work flat-out to save patients’ lives even as they continue to risk their own.
“We must acknowledge not only the brave work they have already done over the last 18 months, but also the work they will continue to do as we enter a third wave. They need a proper pay rise – not the grossly inadequate 3 per cent the government has offered – and they need robust PPE provision to protect them from an airborne, extremely contagious virus that is still killing dozens of people each day.
“Adequate investment in the NHS is also never more important than now as we stand at a critical juncture, when we need to treat not only thousands of Covid patients, but also the millions of patients who are stuck in the care backlog,” Jarrett-Thorpe continued.
“The depth of the crisis facing the NHS as we go into autumn and winter requires an enormous injection of resources and a breath of political imagination to engage with the health unions to chart a blueprint for recovery for the 2020s.”
By Hajera Blagg