UK Hospitals Declare Critical Incidents, Urge ‘More Cautious Approach’ to COVID-19 Restrictions
As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to drive cases up, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has held off on introducing stricter restrictions in England than his current “Plan B”. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, meanwhile, have opted for a toughening of the measures in place to curb the spread of the respiratory disease.
Multiple UK hospitals have declared “critical incidents” over dramatic staff shortages caused by the surging COVID-19 cases
. Such a situation is typically declared by NHS trusts when they believe they may no longer be able to provide a range of critical services.
With National Health Service (NHS) staff sickness and absences doubling due to COVID-19 in the two weeks to Boxing Day across England, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called on government ministers to introduce "a more cautious approach for England without further delay".
"The health and care system in England, already short tens of thousands of professionals, can ill afford the current losses," it stated in a letter to Health Secretary Sajid Javid cited by UK media.
The union voiced “significant concerns" about staffing for the new "Nightingale surge hubs". Eight locations with a capacity for 100 patients are being rolled out for patients not well enough to go home but requiring minimal supervision during COVID-19 recovery.
The world’s largest nursing union, representing more than 465,000 professionals, also questioned the differences in COVID-19 measures set in place in the different UK nations.
"It is confusing and concerning that the different UK governments have set out their own different rules and regulations in relation to the management of the pandemic," stated the RCN, adding that nursing professionals were “questioning the level and nature of the variation between governments".
26 December 2021, 11:20 GMT
The chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, while warning that “in many parts of the health service, we are currently in a state of crisis."
"Some hospitals are making urgent calls to exhausted staff to give up rest days and leave to enable them to sustain core services," Taylor added in a blog post.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust stated that "extreme and unprecedented" staff shortages would lead to "compromised care".
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, went on Twitter to say that "a number of trusts across the country have declared internal critical incidents over the last few days".
Chief executive of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, Aaron Cummins, in an internal message shared on Twitter, told staff that "sadly, despite everyone's best efforts, many of our patients are still receiving a level of care and experience that falls below the level of standards we would like".
Pressure on NHS ‘Considerable’
As a further 157,758 coronavirus cases and 42 COVID-19 related deaths were recorded in the latest 24-hour period, according to official figures, England is currently under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Plan B” restrictions.
They came into effect in early December to last until 26 January 2022. They presuppose mask-wearing indoors, working from home if it's reasonable to do so, increased testing and vaccine certificates for large events and in nightclubs.
The restrictions, announced on 14 December, had triggered a massive rebellion,
when 99 Conservatives voted against them, with the plan passing through the House of Commons relying on Labour support. Since then, Johnson has been wary of broaching any further coronavirus restrictions.
Meanwhile, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have gone their own way as the Omicron variant sweeps across the country. Wales introduced some of the strictest new rules, with a general requirement of two metres' social distancing in all premises, where reasonable. The rule of six is also applied to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres, face coverings required in hospitality settings and mandatory on public transport. Nightclubs are closed.
Scotland, Northern Ireland have also opted to close nightclubs, enact the social distancing rule, require face coverings in indoor settings and recommend that household mixing be reduced to a maximum of three households.
31 December 2021, 09:48 GMT
Vaccines minister Maggie Throup was cited by Sky News as saying that the PM’s “Plan B” measures were "working" and "I don't see no reason why we need to change".
While stopping short of confirming how many hospitals have declared “critical incidents”, she touted the fact that people currently hospitalised were going in with less severe conditions than before.
“… The numbers that are in hospital beds is about half what it was a year ago - and that just shows the power of the vaccine," she said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that pressure on the NHS for the “next couple of weeks and maybe more” would be “considerable”, as he visited a vaccination centre at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
The PM said the Omicron variant
was “plainly milder” than other strains, yet added “there’s no question Omicron continues to surge through the country”.
He extolled the "mixture of things we're doing at the moment" as the correct measures, and said the government would continue with Plan B. These measures are expected to be reviewed on 5 January.