Hospitals are ‘coping’ with Covid infection levels – NHS boss

Hospitals in Covid hotspots are seeing a “significantly” lower death rate among people admitted for treatment and are coping with current levels of infection, the head of NHS Providers has said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the body which represents NHS trusts, said there was a degree of confidence that vaccines have “broken” the link between infections and the “very high level of hospitalisations and mortality we’ve seen in previous waves”.

He told Times Radio: “And if, and it is a big if, if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if other areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.

“It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here… you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity they’ve got.

Covid-19 patients in hospital in England
(PA Graphics)

“What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is a significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures.

“So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.”

An increased package of support is being provided to Greater Manchester and Lancashire, similar to that seen in Bolton, where case numbers of the Delta variant first identified in India have been relatively high.

Mr Hopson said any decision on easing remaining lockdown restrictions in England on June 21 was finely balanced, adding that if “incredibly busy” hospitals see even a small rise in Covid patients, they could have to “make some trade-offs between Covid and non-Covid care”.

He added that “we don’t quite know where we are in terms of, are we at the beginning of an exponential rise or not?”.

But he said the “picture on mortality seems really pretty clear, that we’ve had less than 15 people a day dying from Covid for nearly about seven weeks now and that compares to well over 1,000 a day in the January peak and 800 a day in April last year”.

It comes as new Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows an estimated eight in 10 (80%) adults in households in England were likely to have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the week beginning May 17 – a marker of whether somebody had the infection in the past or has been vaccinated.

In Wales, the figure was 83%, while it was 73% in Scotland and 80% in Northern Ireland.

Elsewhere, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said coronavirus cases are “clearly rising” and that Boris Johnson is reviewing a range of data before making a final decision on lifting restrictions on June 21.

He told Sky News: “We created this five-week period between the stages of the road map and that has actually proved invaluable on this occasion, because it’s a finely balanced decision.

Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK
(PA Graphics)

“We need to see that data of cases, which are clearly rising, but the link to hospitalisations and ultimately to death.

“So the Prime Minister is reviewing that ahead of the decision point, which is going to be June 14 – at that point of course he will let everybody know what the ultimate decision is.”

He said there were no plans to return to last year’s regional tiered approach to coronavirus restrictions, adding that the Government hopes to replicate the targeted action seen in Bolton.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We don’t have any plan to return to the regional or the tiered approach that we saw last autumn.

“What we want to do is provide as much support as we possibly can to a local community and to work as closely as we can with the local leaders.

“We have seen in Bolton that that approach has worked. It did require a lot of effort and Bolton Council has been brilliant, the NHS there, local people above all have been extremely helpful and effective in combating it.

“So that approach, of going door to door with testing, doing the surge testing, doing the vaccine buses, getting everybody out to be vaccinated, has worked there.

“If we can replicate that in other places where you see similarly concerning rises in the number of cases, then that is the best way forward.”

Regarding international travel, Mr Jenrick said he would probably be going on holiday in the UK this summer, telling Sky News: “I think a lot of people are coming to the conclusion, perfectly understandably, that this isn’t a normal summer – opportunities for international travel are going to be more limited, and so why not enjoy everything that this country has to offer this summer?

“That’s probably the decision that I’m going to make, many other people will be doing the same.”

Meanwhile, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham told told LBC’s Nick Ferrari he hoped June 21 would go ahead.

“I want to try and stick to June 21, I think the country wants that, but it’s got to be done safely,” he said.

“There is something they (the Government) can do to give more confidence to the 21st, or as close to the 21st as possible, and that is to surge vaccine supplies into areas that have the highest case numbers, because the need now is to stop the march of the Delta variant.”

However, Lancashire’s public health director, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, urged caution, saying the proportion of people double-vaccinated can vary from 20% to 70% depending on the area.

Easing the lockdown in England
(PA Graphics)

He told BBC Breakfast: “This, with an escalating situation in terms of highly transmissible virus, I think we need to really tread carefully in unlocking further just so that we do that sustainably and not having the prospect of going back in again.”

On whether the June 21 reopening should proceed, Dr David Nabarro, special envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organisation, told Sky News that life should go on with precautions.

He said: “Life has to go on and the last thing any of us want is to have people needing to go on restricting their lives but this virus has not gone away.

“And in some ways it’s lurking and just waiting to strike again.

“I want to suggest to everybody, please be really really careful – by all means, governments should be releasing restrictions but it’s really up to people everywhere to organise their lives to minimise the amount of contact they have with others, and to wear their face masks and just keep that protection going.”

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It is understood that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a short delay to Step 4 of the road map amid a rise in Covid cases.

A Whitehall source pointed towards the Treasury having gone “long” on emergency coronavirus support packages in the Budget to cover the possibility of a delay to the plans.

But Tory lockdown-sceptic Sir Charles Walker has warned the Prime Minister against delay, saying: “There will be a huge wave of disappointment across the country if we don’t open up on June 21.”