NHS workers are “back in the eye of the storm” amid rising cases of coronavirus in the UK as the “toughest year” draws to close, the chief executive of NHS England has said.
Sir Simon Stevens paid tribute to nurses, doctors, therapists and countless other NHS workers, as well as cleaners and non-medical staff such as carers, volunteers and care home workers, in a New Year message recorded at a vaccination centre.
It comes as hospitals face a rise in pressure amid the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, with the number of coronavirus patients receiving treatment heading towards the April peak.
Sir Simon said Covid-19 meant 2020 had “probably been the toughest year most of us can remember”.
“That is certainly true across the health service where we have been responding to the worst pandemic in a century,” he said.
“Many of us have lost family, friends, colleagues and – at a time of year when we would normally be celebrating – a lot of people are understandably feeling anxious, frustrated and tired.
“And now again we are back in the eye of the storm with a second wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe and, indeed, this country.”
But the pandemic had shown that “sometimes the worst of circumstances bring out the best in people”, he added.
“We have certainly seen that in my colleagues across the health service – the fantastic intensive care nurses and doctors, the paramedics, the therapists, the porters, the cleaners, the entire team across the national health service who have so brilliantly looked after 200,000 severely ill coronavirus patients and many others with all the other conditions the health service is here to care for,” he said.
“As they have done so, that has been boosted by the superb work of neighbours and volunteers and carers and care home staff – and quietly, at the same time, the advances we continue to see in medical science.”
Sir Simon suggested that scientific breakthroughs which saw the NHS become the first health service in the world to deliver a coronavirus vaccine outside of a trial may offer some hope for the future.
Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old British grandmother, became the first patient in the world to receive the Covid-19 vaccine when she was given the jab at University Hospital, Coventry, on December 8.
Sir Simon said: “We think that by late spring with vaccine supplies continuing to come on stream we will have been able to offer all vulnerable people across this country Covid vaccination.
“That perhaps provides the biggest chink of hope for the year ahead.
“But that will only be possible thanks once again to the dedication and the commitment of countless NHS staff – our brilliant GPs, pharmacists, nurses and many many others.
“Therefore now is the right time, I believe, on behalf of the whole country to record our enormous debt of gratitude and our huge thanks.”