Winter pressures and Covid surge ‘causing concern’ for NHS staff


An NHS leader believes there could be a “huge difference” in how the second wave of Covid-19 affects the UK, amid fears the health service could struggle to manage the virus alongside its usual winter pressures.

Dr Layla McCay, a director at the NHS Confederation, told the PA news agency the expected surge in Covid cases in the coming weeks and months, combined with cases of seasonal illnesses such as flu, were causing concern.

“At the best of times, when winter comes there is a surge and often the NHS has to work very hard to keep up with demand,” said Dr McCay, who has been leading for the organisation on Covid and Brexit.

“What we are anticipating this year is that there will be that winter surge and on top of that a Covid-19 surge.

“We don’t know how much demand is going to be for either winter or Covid-19, but from the predictions and trends we have seen, there is cause to be concerned.”

On top of this, there are fears vacancies within the NHS will be exacerbated as winter progresses.

Data released by the NHS earlier this year found that between January 1 and March 31 this year, there were 84,393 advertised full-time vacancies in England.

Of these, 84% (71,148) were permanent and 16% (13,245) were fixed term.

Dr McCay said: “There have been vacancies within the NHS pre-dating Covid but certainly when you have an extra demand like Covid, these vacancies become a lot more stark.”

Frontline health and care staff have already said they are scared of what a second wave could bring.

“Staff are exhausted, some have been working flat out,” she added.

A survey of healthcare leaders by the NHS Confederation found that nine in 10 were worried about staff’s physical and mental wellbeing.

During the first wave of the pandemic, a number of non-essential services were reduced or stopped to create capacity.

These services have now resumed and frontline staff are working to clear a backlog of patients waiting for treatments.

Dr McCay said: “Staff are willing and ready to deal with the demands of Covid-19 and also the demands of winter alongside delivering and restoring services, but I think it is going to be a struggle.”

The Royal College of Nursing expressed concerns about the 40,000 nursing vacancies within the NHS in England and the strain this would cause over winter.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN said: “Nursing staff in all settings from hospitals to care homes and in community settings have all reported increased levels of stress and longer hours. With the coming pressures that winter will bring there is real concern from all nursing staff about what is to come.

“And with the number of people having to wait more than 18 weeks to start hospital treatment at near record levels, it is abundantly clear how this impacts on patient care.

“Government must act now to get a hold of this to protect patients and staff.”