Covid: Pressure on NHS will be 'considerable' over next couple of weeks as Omicron surges

The pressure is on as Omicron cases continue to surge but, for now, restrictions in England are unchanged as ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

Pressure on the NHS is going to be “considerable” for the “next couple of weeks and maybe more”, the Prime Minister has warned, as Omicron Covid cases continue to surge.

Boris Johnson was speaking on a visit to a vaccination hub in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, a day after United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust declared a “critical incident” linked to “extreme and unprecedented” staff shortages.

Chief executive of NHS providers, Chris Hopson, told ITV News on Monday the Trust is one of around six to have declared a critical incidents.

Chief executive of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, Aaron Cummins, confirmed in a statement the trust was one of those to have declared an "internal critical incident".

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In an internal message from Mr Cummins shared on Twitter, he told staff that "sadly, despite everyone’s best efforts, many of our patients are still receiving a level of care and experience that falls below the level of standards we would like".

He added in his statement that some non-urgent operations and procedures would be suspended. He said the escalation "allows us to be able to take additional steps to maintain safe services for our patients and help us cope with the growing pressures".

The Prime Minister said the new variant of coronavirus is “plainly milder” than other strains, but he said “there’s no question Omicron continues to surge through the country”.

He pledged to “make sure that we look after our NHS any way that we can” and urged people to get the booster vaccine.

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Mr Johnson said: “Make sure we follow a Plan B, get boosted but also help the NHS with their staffing requirements, and we’re looking at what we can do to move people into those areas that are particularly badly affected.

“Don’t forget that… no matter how incredibly transmissible Omicron is – and there’s no question it really spreads very, very fast – it is different from previous variants.

“And it does seem pretty conclusively to be less severe than Delta or Alpha, and it is putting fewer people into ICU, and sadly the people who are getting into ICU are the people who aren’t boosted, so get boosted.”

PM: 'The pressure on the NHS is going to be considerable in the next couple of weeks'

It comes as a key healthcare leader warns parts of the health service are in “crisis”.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “In many parts of the health service, we are currently in a state of crisis. In the face of high levels of demand and staff absence some hospitals are having to declare a ‘critical incident’.

“Some hospitals are making urgent calls to exhausted staff to give up rest days and leave to enable them to sustain core services.

"Many more hospitals are having to ban visitors to try to reduce the spread of infection. NHS England is continuing to plan for surge capacity.

“Community and social care services, which were already massively overstretched, are at breaking point. In many areas, ambulance services are unable to meet their target response times.

"Primary care is having to add caring for Covid-19 patients and trying to keep them out of hospitals to driving the booster programme and dealing with unprecedented underlying demand which is driven in part by the millions of unwell people waiting for appointments and operations.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said there is “concern” the over-50s are getting infected more widely with Covid.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Zahawi said: “There’s some really good data from London that it looks like the infection rates are plateauing, if not yet coming down.

Plan B Covid measures will be reviewed on Wednesday. Credit: PA

"But we are seeing leakage into the over-50s in terms of infections, and it’s generally the over-50s who end up with severe infection and hospitalisation.”

Despite the spiralling increase in Covid cases, the PM has resisted implementing more restrictions and said the current Plan B measures are the right ones to address the virus.

He added that all measures will be kept under review and urged people to “build up defences” by getting third doses of the jab, adding people should also take Covid tests “before meeting people you don’t usually meet” and work from home if possible.

The government is set to review its Plan B measures on Wednesday when MPs return to the Commons.

The regulations are not due to expire until January 26, but Downing Street said at the point they were announced in December that a review would take place three weeks after implementation.

Mr Johnson added it would be “absolute folly” to think the coronavirus pandemic was “all over”.

  • PM: 'It will be absolute folly to say that this thing is all over now bar the shouting'

He told broadcasters the country was in a “much, much stronger position than this time last year… because of science and because of vaccination”, but he warned against complacency.

The PM said: “I would say to everybody looking at the pressures on the NHS in the next couple of weeks, and maybe longer, looking at the numbers of people who are going to be going into hospital, it will be absolute folly to say that this thing is all over now bar the shouting.

“We’ve got to remain cautious. We got to stick with Plan B. We’ve got to get boosted.”