The NHS is bracing itself for a second wave of Covid-19 later this year, its chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said today.
Health bosses are already preparing for a resurgence of sick patients and say the ‘biggest ever’ flu vaccination programme will be needed to keep hospitals running.
NHS chiefs feared in March that their hospitals would be overwhelmed with a staggering two million coronavirus patients, 660,000 of whom could have needed intensive care.
Scenes of patients in corridors in hospitals in northern Italy petrified officials in Britain who threw all their efforts into efforts to ‘protect the NHS’.
In reality far fewer Covid-19 patients needed hospital care – a total of 128,737 people have been admitted to wards with the disease so far, with the majority recovering.
But experts say the pandemic is far from over, and many more people are expected to catch the virus in future and regular localised outbreaks are unavoidable.
Even now, when the virus is at its lowest point for at least four months, up to 3,600 people in England are still catching the coronavirus every day.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Sir Simon said ‘yes’ the NHS is preparing for a second wave of Covid-19.
‘It is entirely possible that there will be [a second wave],’ he said, ‘particularly if it is coexistent with flu.
‘The risk is that many of the symptoms are interchangeable so one of the things that we clearly need is a very rigorous testing and tracing service available, the ability to give early warnings to hospitals where there are those local increases, and I think we’re going to need the biggest ever flu immunisation season we’ve ever had.
‘We don’t know yet whether there will be a Covid vaccine available in time for winter.’
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Experts have repeatedly warned that the coronavirus will return in Britain, but there are hopes that these will be broken down into local, containable surges and will not a require a drastic nationwide lockdown like the one imposed in March.
March’s lockdown, out of which England made its biggest steps yesterday, Saturday July 4, was imposed after officials saw what was happening in Italy.
Scenes of overwhelmed intensive care units and hospital patients struggling to breathe being treated in corridors struck fear into the heart of British officials.
Sir Simon Stevens admitted today that he feared at the time that the UK would face two million people being hospitalised with coronavirus.
A third of these, he said – 660,000 people – might need intensive care according to predictions at the time.
He told Andrew Marr: ‘In March we were looking at what was happening in Northern Italy, we were being advised by the epidemiologists and public health experts, and we could see as many as two million people requiring hospital care of whom perhaps a third might require intensive care.
‘So yes there was considerable concern.
‘If you think about the actions that had to be taken to free up hospital capacity so that in a few short weeks we were able to successfully look after 100,000 coronavirus patients who needed specialist emergency care, that was something that was not inevitable.’