Sunday Express


- By Lucy Johnston HEALTH EDITOR

HEALTH experts have been ordered to report on how the country can avoid a winter nightmare of seasonal flu pandemic, a second Covid spike and a huge NHS backlog.

They are likely to call for a coordinate­d approach to getting the nation into shape physically and mentally to avoid the “NHS chasing its tail for every winter to come”.

The study, to be published later this month, was ordered by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrickval­lance.

Put together by members of the Academy of Medical Sciences, it will be presented to the SAGE committee.

Experts say if there is a cold dry winter together with a poorly matched seasonal flu vaccine, there could be a lethal influenza pandemic on a similar scale to 2017-18. It saw 50,000 excess deaths.

A feared second Covid-19 spike and the backlog in NHS testing and treatment – waiting lists could double to 10 million by the end of the year – would help create the perfect storm.

So too would research showing many Brits, already obese or unfit, are emerging from lockdown in even worse shape.

‘We have time to help ourselves and NHS’

That would leave us more vulnerable to infection and death.

Dr William Bird, a GP and CEO of Intelligen­t Health, is helping write the report and says urgent action is needed.

His comments follow a study carried out by Intelligen­t Health which revealed 50 per cent of adults and 44 per cent of children said they were less active while staying at home.

Speaking in a personal capacity Dr Bird, who helped set up the health forecastin­g unit at the Met Office, said we need to get as healthy as possible before winter closes in.

Dr Bird, who has carried out in-depth research into excess winter deaths, said: “Our research shows there are groups who have been eating and drinking more during lockdown and also many have been exercising less.

“Months of isolation at home as a result of the pandemic will have had an immense deconditio­ning effect on many.

“This is particular­ly true of people with long-term conditions and the 1.5 million who were shielding.

“We now have a deconditio­ning pandemic and if we hit winter with a big flu outbreak as well as a spike in coronaviru­s it could overwhelm the country.”

He added: “We already have a massive problem. Even if we get a milder excess winter death number, in the UK we are never less than 25,000.

“If we don’t sort this out the NHS

could be chasing its tail for every winter to come.” But Dr Bird believes a coordinate­d approach to tackling fuel poverty, boosting NHS capacity, and pulling together health campaigns could prevent it. He said: “We have time to reverse this before winter. We urgently need to get people ready now.we all have a responsibi­lity to get active and fit.

“We cannot be too Nhs-centric over it. We need to get everyone in the community looking out for people who may be at risk of cold.

“We also need to tackle fuel poverty. We need better housing and insulation. People also need to wrap up warmly in cold weather when they are out as being cold increases the risk of infection.”

He added: “We know who is vulnerable to the serious effects of infection and we know this is avoidable in many cases.

“But rather than sit around gloomily we can do something to help the NHS, help yourselves and your families. But we need to start now.”

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