Without a universal policy to vaccinate frontline patient-facing staff as a priority, we could be facing avoidable staff sickness and absence over the already difficult winter months. We call on Matt Hancock to act on this immediately and prevent what will be a potential disaster this winter.Dr Zainab Najim, DAUK Secretary and GP Committee
Hospitals have been ordered to mobilise their “surge capacity” over new year as they face a triple whammy of soaring infections, rising staff sickness and longer patient stays.
Doctors are bracing themselves for a spike in admissions — already at their highest level since mid-April — over the next fortnight after cases increased by 57% last week.
The threat was underlined in a leaked letter to hundreds of local NHS bosses on Wednesday from the service’s chief operating officer, Amanda Pritchard. In the six-page memo on NHS winter priorities, she ordered trusts “to safely mobilise all of their available surge capacity over the coming weeks”.
She added: “This should include maximising use of the independent sector, providing mutual aid, making use of specialist hospitals and hubs to protect urgent cancer and elective activity, and planning for use of funded additional facilities such as the Nightingale hospitals, Seacole services and other community capacity.”
Hospital capacity was a problem before the coronavirus hit. The NHS has among the lowest per capita numbers of doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the western world.
A King’s Fund analysis of data from 21 countries, collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found the UK had the third-fewest doctors among the 21 nations, with just 2.8 per 1,000 people, barely half the number in Austria, which has 5.1 doctors per 1,000.The UK also had the sixth-fewest nurses for its population: 7.9 per 1,000 people — way behind Switzerland, which has the most, at 18 nurses.
As for hospital beds, the UK has just 2.6 for every 1,000 people, less than a third of the number in Germany, which has the most — 8.1 beds — and leaves the UK 18th overall out of the 21 countries for which the OECD gathered figures.
“Without a universal policy to vaccinate frontline patient-facing staff as a priority, we could be facing avoidable staff sickness and absence over the already difficult winter months,” said Dr Zainab Najim, of the Doctors’ Association UK. “We call on Matt Hancock to act on this immediately and prevent what will be a potential disaster this winter.”
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