Why Second Wave of COVID Pandemic Will be Even More Difficult for the UK

© REUTERS / Phil NobleAn NHS alert message is seen on a street, following a local lockdown imposed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Leicester, Britain, July 1, 2020
An NHS alert message is seen on a street, following a local lockdown imposed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Leicester, Britain, July 1, 2020 - Sputnik International
Though the UK government initiative to step up NHS funding amid the COVID pandemic is crucial, there are concerns as to whether the promised financial aid will fill all the gaps, as the upcoming winter season threatens to become even more disastrous for the nation, British healthcare experts say.

England's National Health Service (NHS) will receive an extra £3 billion ($3.77 billion) in cash to prepare for the winter season's possible second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 17 July, specifying that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive additional funds.

No. 10 pointed out that the funding would allow the NHS to continue to make use of additional private hospital beds and maintain the temporary Nightingale hospitals through the end of March 2021.The British government has also vowed to increase testing capacity to at least 500,000 tests a day by the end of October 2020.

'Trusts Need More Than That'

As of 18 July, Britain has registered 294,804 confirmed coronavirus cases and 45,318 deaths. According to a report released by the Academy of Medical Sciences on 14 July, however, the country could see roughly 120,000 new coronavirus deaths this winter.

The extra funding for the NHS is a vital injection, as the entity faces "the prospect of a perfect storm", states Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

As the virus is alive and present, the productivity of clinical services going forward is hugely impaired, he observes, warning that, according to some estimates, "they will be only be able to operate at 60% of normal capacity".

Hailing the government's initiative to step up funding and provide support for the challenging winter season, Saffron Cordery, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, calls upon No. 10 to bring clarity to a number of issues related to the decision in an official statement:

·         First, what exactly the £3 billion aid will cover and whether it is all new money.

·         Second, whether this funding will extend to mental health, community, rehab, and ITU capacity.

While facing "a triple whammy of pressures", including the prospect of flu, the ongoing pandemic and the potential second wave, "trusts need more than that", Cordery emphasises.

"They have got to recover the lost ground of the last four or five months and put measures in place to manage the additional activity that always happens in winter", the NHS Provider's director highlights.

Cordery bemoans the fact that social care, which is in a critical condition across the country, won't be eligible to extra funding: "A thriving social care and NHS go hand in hand", she emphasises.

Delayed Patients

Besides meeting the needs of coronavirus victims, UK medical services must deal with millions of patients who have had care delayed as the UK went into lockdown, notes the British Medical Association (BMA), asking the government to clarify how exactly the promised cash will be used and whether it is enough to address both key issues.

"The BMA recently estimated that up to 1.5 million fewer operations and treatments and around 2.5 million fewer outpatient appointments took place over the last three months, compared to the average in the past two years", stresses Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, in his statement.

Healthcare Staff Tired & Burnt Out

While maintaining the necessary infrastructure to slow the coronavirus pandemic, an upcoming winter flu, and delayed patients, "there also needs to be staff to keep services", Nagpaul remarks, referring to the heavy burden borne by the country's healthcare staff during the past few months of the COVID pandemic.

"More funding is a good thing, but there is a huge problem that the UK has always been short of nursing and medical staff", echoes Dr. Yoon Loke, senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology at the University of East Anglia.

Even if more hospitals are opened and more beds provided for patients, there may not be enough healthcare workers who can deliver the treatment and look after the patients, he warns. He expresses doubt that there is a quick and easy way to get more workers into the hospitals.

"The current staff is already tired and burnt out after fighting the first wave, and many of them were not able to take their holidays. So, I think the second wave will be even more difficult, irrespective of how much extra money is proposed", the doctor states.
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