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Expect ‘difficult winter’ with both flu and Covid wave, warns CMO

Expect ‘difficult winter’ with both flu and Covid wave, warns CMO

GPs should expect a resurgence of flu cases alongside another winter wave of Covid, the chief medical officer has warned.

He said that a ‘difficult winter’ lies ahead, although it may not reach the pressures felt this year.

It comes as studies are underway to assess whether flu and Covid vaccinations can be co-administered later this year.

Speaking yesterday at the final afternoon of NHS Confed’s annual conference, Professor Chris Whitty said that after the current wave, he is expecting a further ‘surge’ of Covid in late autumn/winter when respiratory viruses are ‘favoured’.

The size of this will depend on any new variants and ‘how the current wave passes through the UK’, but ‘revaccination’ should be expected for the next two to three years, he added.

He told delegates: ‘If I look five years out, I would expect us to have polyvalent vaccines which will hold the line to a very large degree against even new variants as they come in and an ability to respond with vaccination to new variants. 

‘But [in] the period over the next two or three years, I think new variants may well lead to us having to revaccinate or consider at least boosting vaccination as they come through. Covid has not thrown its last surprise at us and there will be several more over the next period.’

Professor Whitty also warned healthcare staff to prepare for a tough winter, with either a return of flu alongside Covid or Covid cases so bad that social distancing remains necessary.

He said: ‘We had a minimal flu winter last winter – we had very little RSV in children [and] we had relatively low adenovirus – [but] we will get all of those back this coming winter unless the Covid situation is so bad that everybody is starting to go back to essentially minimising their social contacts again. 

‘So either we will have a very significant Covid surge, people will minimise their contacts and we will have less respiratory viruses, or people will be back to more normal life, there will be some Covid but on top of that we’ll go back to having a flu surge.’

He added: ‘The coming winter may well be quite a difficult one – probably not on the scale of the last one, that would be very surprising as the scale of the last winter was really the worst any of us can remember – but still quite a significant one. 

‘I think we as the NHS need to brace ourselves for that, and that’s of course on the back of everyone having to work incredibly hard to do the catch up that we’re seeing coming through the front door at the moment.’

In February, Public Health England (PHE) revealed that no flu cases had been detected in the last seven weeks thanks to ‘changes in our behaviour’.

Meanwhile, Professor Whitty also said that trends in multimorbidity ‘should be a wake up call’ for the need to ‘maintain our generalist skills alongside our specialist skills’.

He said: ‘The reason that the UK has been able to respond magnificently to this emergency is because people with generalist skills were able to surge from one area of healthcare into another.’

Also speaking at the NHS Confed Conference, health secretary Matt Hancock pledged to provide further ‘funding we need to deal with the backlog’ caused by the pandemic but said discussions within the Government were ‘not concluded’.

He also pledged to be ‘open’ with the public about the scale of the backlog. It follows repeated calls for honesty from the BMA, which said that clearing the backlog of elective care to ‘more manageable’ levels could take up to a decade.

The BMA met with the health secretary to discuss the current GP crisis last month, after an emergency GP Committee motion stipulated it should demand an ‘urgent meeting’.


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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Iain Chalmers 18 June, 2021 9:46 am

I note the recent “useless” comment and all we get is promises of “funding”

Perhaps some extra bodies to do the work/clear the backlog would be appreciated??

Unfortunately no amount of promises/funding will tempt me to reverse my retirement plans. I suspect many others will be taking Plan B option too.

PS graduation 8/86 worked even when on crutches with # ankle so my “work ethic” can’t be questioned in past!

John Glasspool 18 June, 2021 11:07 am

Why shoiuld there be any sort of “wave”? As a result of Covid, I predict that Flu uptake will be higher than ever, and we will soon have given two jabs to all of the adult population. Maybe those in authority know something they haven’t told us yet?

Jonathan Heatley 18 June, 2021 12:36 pm

our practice has been dealing with a ‘wave’ of anxious parents whose toddlers have a two week cough. They seem to have forgotten that children normally get ill and covid has raised everyone’s anxiety levels.
Last winter was survivable because there was so little of the normal viruses. Expect a double amount this winter plus a lot of psychiatry when furlough ends and people realise how bad the economy has been hit.
I am expecting this winter to be MUCH worse than last year.

Patrufini Duffy 18 June, 2021 1:06 pm

As long as there is enough UK sertraline stock – we’ll be fine.

John Graham Munro 18 June, 2021 2:45 pm

I feel sorry for those young starry eyed G.Ps. who have found that their chosen field is not a bed of roses