Two dozen hospital funds have declared critical incidents in the UK in response to Covid pressure, Transport Minister Grant Shapps has said.
The minister acknowledged the “very real pressure” facing the NHS, which includes crippling staff shortages and an increase in Covid patients, but he did not think the critical incidents were unusual.
“There are 137 trusts, there are 24 that are critical, it’s not entirely uncommon for hospitals to go critical over the winter with things like the flu pandemic,” he said. Sky News.
“But there is a very real pressure that I absolutely recognize.”
Shapps defended the government’s decision not to go beyond Plan B restrictions for England despite pressure on the NHS and suggested that new rules were not necessary.
“We’re always trying to find the right compromise to go too tight with restrictions – lockdowns, let’s face it, they have a lot of costs involved,” he added.
“Then again, we do not want our hospitals to be overrun. This is where I think Plan B has proven to be the right approach so far.”
The transport minister added that an additional 5,000 doctors and 10,000 more nurses are in place across the country compared to last year.
But Frontline doctors have talked about their fears the NHS will continue to be overwhelmed over the coming weeks as Covid continues to spread.
Dr. Nick Scriven, an emergency medical consultant in the Northwest and former president of the Society of Acute Medicine, told I that even if Covid cases peaked today, the number of patients to be treated would continue to rise for at least 10 days and more likely longer.
He said: “I feel that trusts are resigned to the fact that the current level of pressure will be maintained for at least another 3-4 weeks.”
Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, said health care is being “stretched like never before” as Covid hospital admissions begin to rise.
The number of Covid patients in UK hospitals is currently just under 18,000, up from 10,000 on 27 December. The number of patients in intensive care also increased for the fourth day in a row with 911 people currently in need of mechanical ventilation.
But those numbers are far lower than the admissions seen this time last year, when nearly 40,000 Covid patients were treated at the hospital.
NHS trusts in Bristol, Dorset and Norfolk were among the latest to declare critical incidents on Wednesday due to overwhelming pressure.
They joined trusts in Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Blackpool and Swindon, which declared critical incidents earlier in the week.
A critical incident could be used to warn the broader healthcare system that an NHS trust is under acute pressure and may need help from others, such as staff being relocated from elsewhere.
Yesterday, That’s what Boris Johnson told the Commons hospital admissions “doubled around every nine days”, and “we are experiencing the fastest growth in Covid cases we have ever known”.
Cases double every week among those over 60, he added.
But he said the Plan B measures – including wider use of face masks and guidance to work from home – “helped take the edge off the Omicron wave”, slowing the spread, easing pressure on the NHS and buying time for booster campaign to take effect.