Chris Whitty says he can’t promise everything will be great by Christmas


Professor Chris Whitty said: 'I wish I could claim the sunlit uplands and it'll all be fantastic by Christmas but, sadly, I'm afraid [that's not the case].'

Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘I wish I could claim the sunlit uplands and it’ll all be fantastic by Christmas but, sadly, I’m afraid [that’s not the case].’

This winter will be ‘exceptionally difficult’ for the NHS even if there is not a surge of coronavirus cases, Professor Chris Whitty claimed today.

England’s chief medical officer warned of tough months ahead for the health service as it battles Covid, flu and other seasonal viruses.  

Professor Whitty also suggested hospitals could be hit by Covid even worse than they were last winter if a variant emerges that can ‘evade our defences completely’.

Speaking at the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference in Liverpool, he said: ‘I wish I could claim the sunlit uplands and it’ll all be fantastic by Christmas but, sadly, I’m afraid that’s not the case.

‘But we are in a so much better place than we were before.’   

It comes as the UK yesterday recorded 42,776 new infections – a three month high and a jump of seven per cent in a week.

Experts have long-warned of an expected surge this winter, fuelled by pupils returning to schools, workers heading back to offices and people socialising more indoors.

Ministers are relying on a successful rollout of vaccines to 12 to 15-year-olds and boosters to the over-50s, healthcare staff and the most vulnerable to quell the impact of another wave.

But it has put together a ‘Plan B’ that would see the return of face coverings and work from home guidance if the NHS faces unsustainable pressure. And No10 has not ruled out another lockdown in the coming months if it is needed to get the pandemic under control.

NHS waiting list for routine ops hits ANOTHER high with 5.72MILLION people in England stuck in queue 

The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has hit another record high, official data revealed today as hospital bosses warned the Covid backlog will not be cleared for another five years. 

A total of 5.7million people were waiting for elective surgery at the end of August 2021, including almost 10,000 patients who have been in the queue for two years, according to the latest figures from NHS England.

This is the highest number since official records began in August 2007 and the tenth time the milestone has been broken during the pandemic. 

Prior to the Covid crisis, the waiting list stood at around 4.45million. It includes people waiting for operations like knee, hip and joint replacements, as well as cataracts surgery.  

The waiting list spiralled after coronavirus forced hospitals to cancel routine operations and turn over entire wards to patients suffering from the disease at the start of the crisis last spring. Social distancing and other Covid precautions have made it even harder to start chipping away at the backlog.

But the record-breaking figures come before the busiest time of the year for hospitals, with health bosses fearing the UK will be hit with a double-whammy of rising Covid case numbers and flu this winter. 

It comes as a survey of NHS trust leaders, carried out by NHS Providers, revealed a third of bosses believe the Covid backlog will take between three and five years to clear.

With waiting lists already at their highest ever, some 96 per cent of bosses said demand is significantly rising, with mental health, urgent and emergency care and cancer services topping their worries.

 

Speaking at the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference in Liverpool, he said: ‘In terms of where Covid will go over the winter, well I think the winter as a whole, I regret to say, is going to be exceptionally difficult for the NHS.

‘That is, irrespective of whether we have a relatively low but non trivial amount of Covid, or whether we actually have a further surge in the winter.’

He said scientific modellers will all give different projections of how the coming months will play out.  

Professor Whitty said: ‘I think what we’re confident of is the very top end, [what] we would have faced potentially had things gone wrong last winter is not going to happen, barring an extraordinary escape mutant variant.

‘But let’s assume we don’t get something which actually can basically evade our defences completely, I think the top end risks are much lower.

‘But we could certainly go up, we’re only two to three doubling times away from a really quite serious pressure on the NHS and it’s already serious, but one that actually will be very difficult to deal with.

‘So the margin of error is quite small.’ 

Professor Whitty said ‘zero Covid over this winter is a completely impossible dream’, adding the hope was to keep it at ‘relatively low levels’.

He said there was a lot of uncertainty around whether there could be low levels of flu, because as people are still not mixing as much.

But there could also be a ‘really serious spike’ due to a lack of natural immunity and the possibility the flu vaccine being used this year may not very well matched to the strain that affects the UK, he warned.

Adding other viruses and winter health issues into the mix, together with people seeking care that was delayed during the pandemic, the NHS was facing ‘an extraordinarily tall order’, the expert said.

And he admitted that experts got ‘some quite significant things’ wrong at the start of the pandemic.

A report released this week by the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, said the UK’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on flu.

It also concluded ministers waited too long to implement restrictions, such as lockdowns, social distancing and self-isolation. 

He said his role as chief medical officer in the crisis is to offer a view ‘however unpalatable, however, unpleasant’, and to ‘never shy away from giving clear professional advice’.

The number of patients waiting for routine hospital treatment hit 5.6million in July, the highest figure since records began in 2007. And health chiefs have warned the backlog is going to get much worse before it gets better, with projections that it could soar up to 13million by the end of the year if no action is taken

Asked about ministers’ claims that they followed the science, he said: ‘I think they genuinely, in all political parties – but the Prime Minister and ministers in power obviously have the responsibility – did try to understand the scientific advice, and then they tried to work out how you could turn that into a policy that worked more generally.

Number of Britons falling ill with Covid every day FALLS to below 70,000

The number of Britons falling ill with Covid every day fell for the first time in a month last week, according to one of the country’s biggest surveillance studies. 

King’s College London scientists running a symptom-tracking app estimated 69,993 people were getting infected daily in the week ending October 9, down 1.6 per cent from 71,111 the week before.

Despite the ray of hope, Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist who leads the study, warned the NHS may face ‘disaster’ this winter if the high case numbers trickle into the over-55s despite the downturn.

It comes after more up-to-date figures showed cases hit a three-month high yesterday and hospital admissions jumped again — but deaths fell. 

The ZOE Covid Study figures are based on data from nearly 750,000 weekly contributors. 

It estimated the number of daily new cases is now falling in under-18s but remains high across all age groups. There were around 32,000 new cases per day in under-18s last week. 

Cases are now rising steadily in 35- to 55-year-olds and remain low in those aged between 18 and 35 and over-55s.

Covid prevalence is highest highest in Wales, Midlands, North West and North East. They have been falling consistently in Scotland since the start of October.

Around 1,900 people per 100,000 were thought to be infected in Wales as of Monday, compared to fewer than 1,100 in Wales.

‘I know we can all agree or disagree with individual decisions that were taken, but I think there was a genuine attempt, and this wasn’t as I say just in the government, this was also true of the opposition…to try and understand. 

‘There are certainly some quite significant things we got wrong at the beginning of Covid, based on assumption it would be like some previous infections, and it turned out not to be, and that’s inevitable.’ 

His comments come after Sir Patrick Vallance, No10’s chief scientific adviser, said ministers should not have claimed they were ‘led by the science’ throughout the pandemic.  

Sir Patrick said science doesn’t decide nor does it ‘lead the way’, insisting that there were other complex matters that needed to be factored in for crucial decisions. 

No10 should have stuck to the phrase ‘informed by science’, rather than implying they were ‘slavishly following’ evidence ‘because science doesn’t have all the answers to these things’, he said.

And in a warning shot for restrictions coming back this winter, Sir Patrick said faster, harder and broader action must be taken ‘at a time when it doesn’t look particularly worrying’.

It comes as the NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment hit another record high in August, with 5.72million people stuck in the queue.

This is the highest number since official records began in August 2007 and the tenth time the milestone has been broken during the pandemic. 

Prior to the Covid crisis, the waiting list stood at around 4.45million. It includes people waiting for operations like knee, hip and joint replacements, as well as cataracts surgery.  

The waiting list spiralled after coronavirus forced hospitals to cancel routine operations and turn over entire wards to patients suffering from the disease at the start of the crisis last spring. 

Social distancing and other Covid precautions have made it even harder to start chipping away at the backlog.

Meanwhile, one of the country’s biggest surveillance studies estimates the number of Britons falling ill with Covid every day fell for the first time in a month last week.

King’s College London scientists running a symptom-tracking app estimated 69,993 people were getting infected daily in the week ending October 9, down 1.6 per cent from 71,111 the week before.

Despite the ray of hope, Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist who leads the study, warned the NHS may face ‘disaster’ this winter if the high case numbers trickle into the over-55s despite the downturn. 



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