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Hospitals’ waiting list fear ‘perfect storm’ of winter flu outbreak and Covid pandemic

Hospitals’ waiting list fear as ‘perfect storm’ of winter flu outbreak and Covid pandemic could cripple services

  • Some 78% of hospital trust leaders in England are worried about flu season  
  • They said the squeeze will depend on how much flu and Covid is circulating 
  • Nearly nine in 10 said it was likely another surge in Covid will put on pressure  

A ‘perfect storm’ of flu and Covid this winter could wreck plans to tackle record waiting lists, health chiefs warn.

Some 78 per cent of hospital trust leaders in England are extremely or moderately concerned about the operational pressures they will face.

They said the squeeze will depend on how much flu and Covid is circulating, with some already seeing an increase in demand for urgent and emergency care.

Nearly nine in ten said it was likely that another surge in coronavirus cases will result in extra pressure, the survey of 113 trusts by NHS Providers found.

Some 78 per cent of hospital trust leaders in England are extremely or moderately concerned about the operational pressures they will face

Boris Johnson said on Monday that Britain could face a ‘rough winter’. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also pledged a significant flu vaccination drive this winter as experts predict a bad flu season, following lockdown restrictions and less mixing.

One chief operating officer of a community trust in the South East told NHS Providers: ‘I am worried that we will have a difficult flu season and we will have a run on the beds.’

Three quarters of respondents to the survey said they were extremely or moderately concerned about disruption to clearing the NHS backlog for treatment, due to the need to prioritise Covid-19 patients and A&E. 

Mental health and acute trust leaders agreed that demand for mental health services already exceeds capacity, the survey found.

Almost half said they have seen evidence of staff leaving their organisation due to early retirement, Covid-19 burnout or other effects from working in the pandemic.

A further 42 per cent said they had not seen this while 10 per cent did not know.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also pledged a significant flu vaccination drive this winter as experts predict a bad flu season, following lockdown restrictions and less mixing

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also pledged a significant flu vaccination drive this winter as experts predict a bad flu season, following lockdown restrictions and less mixing

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: ‘Our survey reveals the sheer scale of the challenge facing trusts right now.

‘They are battling on multiple fronts as they try to recover care backlogs, deal with increased demand for emergency care and treat patients with Covid-19.

‘This is difficult at the best of times but, as we saw last year, could become even more challenging during the hard winter months, particularly with the expectation that flu will return and there will be increased respiratory viruses among children.

‘Trusts are committed to clearing the backlog of care that built up during the pandemic.

‘We are confident vaccines are breaking the chain between infections and hospital admissions, but the reality on the frontline is that even a small increase in Covid-19 admissions or emergency care pressures could affect our ability to deliver non-Covid services.’ She called for action from the Government, including short-term capital funding ‘so trusts can direct it to the services that need it most’.

She said there also needs to be funding to improve the discharge of patients and proper winter planning to minimise any risks.

‘We know the NHS faces a perfect storm of Covid-19, flu and other respiratory illnesses as well as a growing backlog of care,’ she added. ‘We must act now.’

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