Boris Johnson attacks anti-vaxxers for 'mumbo jumbo', accepts NHS under 'huge pressure' over Omicron

ITV News visits Royal Derby Hospital, where staff are trying to cope with 13% of the workforce off sick, Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a scathing attack on anti-vaxxers, accusing them of putting out "complete mumbo jumbo" on social media.

It comes as he admitted Omicron variant of Covid is putting the NHS under "huge pressure" after critical incidents were declared at 17.5% of England's hospital trusts.

But the prime minister denied the health service does not have enough staff to cope with the pressures it is facing.

During a visit to a vaccination centre in Moulton Park, Northampton, Mr Johnson said: "What a tragedy that we’ve got all this pressure on the NHS, all the difficulties that our doctors and nurses are experiencing, and you've got people out there spouting complete nonsense about the vaccination.

"They are totally wrong and I think it's time that I, government, call them out on what they are doing.

"It is absolutely wrong, it's totally counter-productive and the stuff they're putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo."

More than a fifth of adults in some parts of England have not had a first vaccine dose. But the prime minister said a voluntary approach to vaccination will remain, while other European countries are going for "coercion".

He said of his comments on anti-vaxxers: “You haven’t heard me say that before, because I think it’s important we have a voluntary approach in this country and we’re going to keep a voluntary approach.”

An estimated 4.5 million people aged 18 and over in the UK have not had a first dose, and more than six million people are not double jabbed.

Romilly Weeks explains the UK government's stance on anti-vaxxers as unvaccinated Covid patients in hospital put pressure on the NHS

The weekly NHS England estimates, published on Thursday, show that as of January 2, fewer than 80% of adults in five areas have had a first dose: Westminster (73.9%), Camden (74.0%), Islington (78.0%), Nottingham (79.0%) and Coventry (79.9%).

Fewer than half of adults in some of the biggest cities – Liverpool (49.1%), Birmingham (46.9%), Manchester (45.7%) and Nottingham (42.8%) – are estimated to have taken up their third dose.

Newham in London is the area with the lowest take-up of booster and third doses among all adults (38.5%), followed by the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets (38.6%), Barking & Dagenham (39.2%) and Westminster (40.3%).

There are multiple reasons for people not getting vaccinated, including vaccine hesitancy, medical exemptions, and millions who have recently contracted coronavirus will be unable to get a booster until 28 days after their positive test.

Boris Johnson accepted Omicron is putting the NHS under 'huge pressure'

Mr Johnson said: "We will get through this, this wave of Omicron is putting huge pressure on the NHS. The difference of course is that it is milder.

"The pressures on hospitals are clear. What we've got to do is give the NHS all the help we can through the next period, with all the simplifications of systems, moving staff from one hospital to another, all the ways we can back staff up, but also make sure that the people who are likely to get ill get vaccinated first.."

But, asked why he was allowing the NHS to fight the latest wave without enough staff, the PM fired back: "That's not true."

Health leaders have warned of a "staffing crisis", with huge numbers in self-isolation at dozens of hospital trusts, but ministers have defended the plan to "ride out" the latest wave of coronavirus without any new restrictions.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accepted there are "very real pressures" facing the health service but insisted Plan B is the "right approach".

He said critical incidents - the highest NHS alert level - have been declared at 24 trusts, signally that priority services cannot be safely delivered.

The NHS Confederation said a number of hospitals were reporting up to 10% of staff either in self-isolation due to Covid or were off sick for other reasons.

By declaring an internal critical incident, hospital trusts are able to get assistance from nearby hospitals and other NHS trusts, while increasing co-operation between health care centres.

Mr Shapps said: “It’s not entirely unusual for hospitals to go critical over the winter with things like the flu pandemic. But there are very real pressures which I absolutely recognise.”

He defended the government’s decision to not go further than Plan B restrictions for England - despite the pressure on the NHS, and the devolved nations bringing in stricter measures in response to the spread of Omicron.

“We are always trying to find the right compromise on going too tight on restrictions – lockdowns, let’s face it, they have a lot of costs connected,” he added.

“Then again, not wanting our hospitals to be overrun. This is where I think Plan B has been shown to be the right approach so far.”

What is the situation in England's hospitals? Grant Shapps explains:

In comments first made to The Guardian, NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “The Prime Minister’s attempts to reassure the public that the NHS is not being overwhelmed will not chime with the experience of staff working in some parts of the NHS.”

It comes as government figures showed that a total of 17,276 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 4, up 58% week-on-week.

The figure is the highest number since February 19 last year, although far below the peak of almost 40,000 in January 2021.

Earlier, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman admitted more than 20 NHS trusts had declared a critical incident, but he insisted this was “not a good indicator” of the pressures the health service was under.

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In the Commons, Boris Johnson said hospital admissions were “doubling around every nine days” and “we’re experiencing the fastest growth in Covid cases we’ve ever known”.

Cases were doubling every week among the over-60s, he added.

But he said the Plan B measures – including wider use of face masks and guidance to work from home – were “helping to take the edge off the Omicron wave”, slowing the spread, easing pressure on the NHS and buying time for the booster campaign to take effect.

However, Mr Taylor called for the government to go further.

He said: “The government now needs to do all it can to mobilise more staff and other resources for the NHS to get through this extremely challenging period.”

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He said an announcement that 100,000 critical workers would be given daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open did not go far enough.

And he backed calls for the isolation period to be cut to five days from the current seven.

He said: “We also need other short-term measures, including deploying medical students on wards and taking other steps to cover rota gaps.”

And he added: “We should not be in this position two years into the pandemic.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, said hospitals were being hit with three issues at once – the rising numbers of hospitalisations, staffing, and non-Covid issues which existed before the pandemic.

He said the NHS was “stretched like never before”.

And Mr Taylor said: “We urge the government not to allow its optimism to lead to complacency given the rapidly changing situation we are seeing on a daily basis.

“It is for the government to review the data to see if further restrictions are needed and we urge ministers to take the right decisions in light of the emerging evidence.”