NHS England has identified the ongoing second wave of the Omicron strain of Covid as the ‘principal risk’ to delivering the elective care recovery plan.
- 13,192 patients were admitted to hospital with Covid in England in the previous seven days to Thursday 24 March. (Across the UK, the figure was 14,063.)
- In total, 13,842 patients are currently in hospital with Covid in England (UK – 16,975), including 290 in ventilation beds (UK – 302).
- This is the highest rate since January, when Omicron admissions first peaked, and marks an upward trajectory since late February – when Covid restrictions were lifted.
- The Office for National Statistics‘ latest infection survey, published today, estimated that 1 in 16 people in England had Covid last week.
The elective recovery plan, published at the beginning of last month, had made a number of pledges, including a bid to eliminate waits of over one year by March 2025 and waits of over two years by July 2022.
Yesterday’s progress report to the board said that NHS England has ‘made significant progress since April 2021, and have treated almost 400,000 patients who, if not treated, would have been waiting over two years by the end of March 2022’.
However, it added: ‘The principal risk to delivery is the ongoing Covid-19 wave, with increases in recent weeks, including the impact that has on staff absence, urgent and emergency care, social care, and across the whole system.’
The warning comes two months after experts warned of a rise in Covid cases among older adults, and as the Government opened the scheme to provide a fourth vaccine dose to over-75s, care home residents and immunosuppressed patients on Monday this week.
It also comes as Pulse exclusively revealed today that well over half of GPs were against lifting Covid restrictions at the end of last month. Hundreds of GPs responding to a Pulse survey were concerned about the safety of their most vulnerable patients, as well as their own health.
Commenting on case numbers, Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said: ‘The recent ONS survey confirms that the combination of the BA2 Omicron sub-variant and the relaxation of restrictions is causing a massive resurgence of infection across the UK.
‘Hospitalisations are almost back to the peak seen in January, deaths are again increasing and, worryingly, the age-related spread of infections is extending to include older groups.
‘The widespread disruption in schools is unacceptable, as is the risk to clinically vulnerable people and the associated increase in long Covid that will follow. As ever, the most disadvantaged groups will suffer most.’
Elective recovery plan targets
- Eliminate waits of over one year by March 2025 and waits of over two years by July 2022, acknowledging that some patients will choose to wait longer and there will be ‘challenges’ in particular specialties as before the pandemic;
- Reduce diagnostic waiting times, with the aim of least 95% of patients receiving tests within 6 weeks by March 2025;
- Deliver the ‘cancer faster diagnosis standard’, with at least 75% of urgent cancer referrals receiving a diagnosis within 28 days by March 2024 and return the 62-day backlog to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023.
- Better ‘monitor and improve’ both waiting times and patients’ experience of waiting for first outpatient appointments over the next three years
Note: This article was updated at 16:40 on 25 March to reflect England data on hospital admissions and occupancy