‘Toughest time we’ve had in NHS as Omicron bites’
BEST PRESENT FOR FAMILY AND YOU IS TO BE FULLY VACCINATED
A senior manager says the service is facing its toughest period yet as Omicron cases surge.
Andy Williams, chief executive of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland’s Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: “The concern we have from a health point of view is we will get very high levels of sickness that we need to respond to, but we’re also concerned we’ll get very high levels of staff sickness.
“When you’ve got a wave like Omicron running across the system, the great concern is it doesn’t just mean we have more people to care for, we also have less people to care with because our staff are just as vulnerable as anyone else.
“As the latest variant sweeps across the system, inevitably the numbers of people in hospital will increase.
“If you talk to any health professionals at the moment, I think we all have a sense of this being probably the toughest period of time we’ve ever experienced and we are planning for levels of escalation and contingency we wouldn’t normally get anywhere near.
“We are contemplating the reality of having to collapse our services down to absolutely preserve safety in the system.
“I’ve never known a time when we’ve been under such intense, sustained pressure.”
The NHS across England is at level four out of five of its crisis levels. This means it is focusing on emergency care and the most urgent of elective demand, including lifethreatening and rapidly advancing illnesses like cancer.
There is an expectation that some elective care will have to be stood down “almost imminently”, according to Mr Williams.
Latest figures showed Leicester had a 24-hour rate of 491 confirmed cases per 100,000 people, while Leicestershire had a rate of 688 and Rutland 600.4.
Leicestershire County Council deputy leader Deborah Taylor said: “For us as a local authority, it’s going to have a huge impact on our services.
“With the hospitals, if they get overwhelmed, we will see early discharge again and that will put huge pressure on our social care and the vulnerable children we’re looking after.
“Also, just the basics like clearing the rubbish, our schools, school meals, cleaners, safeguarding, social workers, all those really important services residents rely on, if we get a huge impact of people and staff that are ill we’re going to be really struggling to do that.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’ve got rubbish everywhere and vulnerable children and adults that we can’t care for.
“The vaccine centres are open on Christmas Day. I think the greatest Christmas present you can give yourself and your family is to make sure you’re vaccinated.”
Ivan Browne, director of public health for Leicester City Council, said: “The picture emerging nationally is very clear. Yes, people are ending up in hospital even though they may have been vaccinated, but it is a lesser number.
“The ones we are definitely seeing in need of oxygen and ending up in ICU are still those people who have not had their first dose as well. It’s not too late to get that.
“We’ve a whole range of tools that we hadn’t had before. We’ve got vaccination, we’ve got all the social distancing work that we’ve learnt how to do quite well, we’ve got face coverings, all that stuff.
“But be very clear, we’re going to need all of those aspects to be able to manage this situation.
“It’s not the time to say ‘I’ve gone this far, now I’m going to relax’. We always knew winter was going to be challenging and difficult, but let’s get through this.”
Mr Williams said: “It isn’t just about getting a vaccine at some point in the new year, please get one now. Time is absolutely of the essence.
“The key message is please do not delay, get vaccinated at the very first opportunity you can.”