NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the health service would return to the “level 4” alert as it prepares for a “serious situation ahead”. The development comes after NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis suggested there are only 9,000 beds left for patients struck down by coronavirus.
Sir Stevens said: This is not a situation anybody would like to find themselves in, the worst pandemic in a century.
“The truth, unfortunately, is that if coronavirus takes off again, that will disrupt services.”
It comes as Professor Powis revealed there are now just under 11,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England, more than 50 percent of the peak in spring.
But Sir Stevens said the NHS has prepared “very carefully” for the “next phase of coronavirus”. He said that, for some patients, mortality in hospital and intensive care has “halved since COVID was first known to humanity”.
He added: “However well-prepared hospitals, the NHS, GP surgeries are, it is going to be a difficult period.”
Sir Stevens also warned that a mass vaccination programme is unlikely to get under way before next year.
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Speaking at a press conference of senior health officials, he said: “The truth is that under just about under foreseeable circumstance the vast bulk of vaccination is going to occur in the first part of next year,”
“In terms of who gets it and in what order, there’s a group of medical specialists that look at that question when we look at the benefits of a particular jab.
“At the moment our working assumption is that the most vulnerable, the elderly, people living in care homes, health and social care staff will be front of the queue, while others who are at high risk will be in short order following them.
“Potentially then followed by a much wider group. Our job is that we are ready and waiting and able to fire the starting gun as and when.”
While Professor Powis said people who catch COVID-19 today will start filtering into hospitals in the middle of November.
He said: “Our hospital admissions and our hospital numbers are baked in already for the middle of November.”
Professor Powis said infection rates have been high in the North and North West for several weeks, but that infections are increasing elsewhere.
He said: “In the South of the country, we are now seeing areas of high infection rate, so this is no longer just an issue of higher infection rates in the North, this is an issue of higher infection rates throughout the country.
“Infection rates, for some, inevitably mean hospital admission.”
Professor Powis said health staff are feeling a lot of anxiety going into winter as a second COVID-19 wave looms, with conspiracy theories abound online.
He aid: “But equally there is a lot of determination to get the job done, that is why our staff get out of bed in the morning.
“They need all of us to assist them in doing that. This won’t be a normal winter unless we all assist.
“This is a new virus, the immunity in the population is uncertain but certainly lower than we would see for other infections, so in addition to all the usual viruses we usually see in winter we have this unique new virus.”
He warned NHS staff risk becoming overwhelmed if the public refuse to comply with measures put in place to curb the disease.
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