NHS leaders call for Covid Plan B to be implemented to avert ‘winter crisis’ as UK infections rise

With cases on the up, NHS leaders said the Government should act now or face the prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed this winter

NHS leaders have urged the Government to implement Covid ‘Plan B’ restrictions or run the risk of the health service being overwhelmed this winter.

The NHS Confederation, which represents the health service across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said restrictions should be brought back immediately.

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More stringent measures are required, the group said, as the NHS prepares for a busy winter period, its staff are close to burnout, and it is being expected to get through the backlog of operations that has built up during the pandemic.

It comes after Covid-19 cases in the UK have been rising steeply in October, with the number of positive tests per day surpassing 40,000 on seven consecutive days.

Over the past week, there have been 314,231 cases - a rise of 16.1% (43,646 cases) compared to the previous week.

Deaths within 28 days of a positive test have also risen 14.6% (116) over the past week to 911.

Meanwhile, a new variant called AY4.2 - but also known as Delta Plus - has begun to sweep across the UK and now accounts for around 8% of sequenced cases in the country.

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NHS leaders have warned of a winter crisis should the Government not take preemptive action on Covid-19 (image: Getty Images)

What did the NHS Confederation say?

Here are the five key things to know:

  • The NHS Confederation wants to see the Government reintroduce measures, such as mandatory face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces, and bring in vaccine passports.
  • These measures are the Government’s ‘Plan B’ in its Covid-19 Winter Strategy but health leaders want them enacted “sooner rather than later”.
  • They said such measures were already common in many parts of Europe and had led to a lower prevalence of the disease on the continent.
  • The NHS Confederation also called for a ‘Plan B Plus’ that would see the Government urge the public to: get vaccinated, turn up to appointments on time, use frontline services responsibly, and volunteer with the NHS/return to the workforce, if eligible.
  • Without these preemptive measures, the organisation said the NHS risked being overwhelmed this winter.

What they said

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS is preparing for what could be the most challenging winter on record and it will do everything it can to make sure its services are not disrupted but these outside pressures are not solely within its gift to influence.

“As cases of coronavirus continue to climb, alongside other demands on the health service and pressure on staff capacity in both the NHS and social care, leaders are worried about what could be around the corner.

“It is time for the Government to enact Plan B of its strategy without delay because without preemptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis.

“Also, health leaders need to understand what a ‘Plan C’ would entail if these measures are insufficient.”

In an interview with BBC Breakfast this morning, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Government did not “feel that it’s the time for Plan B right now”.

Mr Kwarteng said the return to normal life had been “very hard won”, adding: “The infection rate was always likely to go up as we opened up the economy, because as people get back to normal life, the infection rate was likely to go up. But what was critically important was the hospitalisation rate and the death rate as well.”

He also stopped short of calling for the public to wear face coverings, despite saying he wore them in “public places”.

“I think people should do what they feel is the right thing to do. They’ve got to, I think, be respectful towards other people, they’ve got to keep themselves safe and the public as well.”

What’s in the Government’s Covid-19 Winter Strategy?

The Government’s ‘Plan A’ for dealing with Covid-19 in England this winter is already being enacted.

It includes: offering booster vaccines to around 30 million people, a single dose of vaccine for those aged 12 to 15-years-old and advising the public to wear face coverings in crowded public areas.

Approaches differ in the other parts of the UK.

In Northern Ireland, the plan for this winter has seen face coverings remain a legal requirement in crowded indoor spaces.

Wales has opted for light touch measures, with a Plan B should cases rise.

And Scotland has set out a winter vaccination strategy for boosters as well as flu jabs. It already has other measures in place, such as the vaccine passport scheme.

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