The NHS is already overwhelmed, a senior doctor has warned, after a minister said further restrictions will be introduced if there is “unsustainable” pressure on the health service.
British Medical Association (BMA) council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that, as well as growing numbers of patients in hospital with Covid, the health service was facing a potentially difficult flu season as well as trying to tackle the waiting list backlog.
Dr Nagpaul told the PA news agency that the trends in Covid cases, hospital admissions and deaths were all going in the wrong direction.
He added: “This is not about waiting to see what’s happening later, hospitalisation rates have increased week on week, death rates are increasing week on week.
“This is a trend that’s all heading in the wrong direction.
“The other thing is to bear in mind is we are likely to see a flu season surge this year, that will add significant pressure on top of what we are already seeing because of Covid.
“We should also not forget the NHS is trying to grapple with a huge backlog of care.
“The NHS is already in our view in a hugely pressured situation.”
His comments come after Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that a surge of coronavirus cases this winter could see people in England ordered to wear face masks and show passes to prove their vaccination status.
Mr Javid said the contingency plans will only be activated if there is “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS in England.
But Dr Nagpaul said that the NHS was already being overwhelmed and added: “When the Government speaks about introducing measures if the NHS is overwhelmed, well we are already overwhelmed.
“If the Secretary of State believes that wearing mask in crowded indoor settings is important then why not, instead of the double-speak, just be clear this is what he expects as a Government to be happening.
“Otherwise we will see this upwards trend in infections carry on and get to the point where he will need to implement more stringent measures.”
“The way to do this is to make sure simple infection control measures are adhered to now.”
Mr Javid told MPs that if efforts to control the spread of coronavirus, including a massive booster vaccination programme, were not effective then a Plan B had been prepared.
Proposed measures could include introducing mandatory vaccine-only Covid-pass for some venues such as nightclubs, a legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings and advice to work from home.
The Health Secretary’s statement detailing England’s autumn and winter plan came after experts set out the case for a booster vaccination programme.
Vaccines will be offered to people aged 50 and over, those in care homes, and frontline health and social care workers from next week.
Dr Nagpaul welcomed the announcement of a booster programme and said that GPs would be ready to start from next week although it might take longer to get going in some areas.
He added: “Many GP practices have been aware that the booster programme may commence at any stage.
“Whilst this may be a challenge for some starting next week we are confident that they will be able to do so thereafter if not starting at the same time.”
Dr Nagpaul also told PA that Mr Javid’s comments that more GPs should being offering patients face-to-face appointments could put older or clinically vulnerable people at risk of infection.
Mr Javid told MPs that with life starting to return “almost back to completely normal” more GPs should be offering face-to-face access.
But Dr Nagpaul said: “I don’t think that GPs are not wanting to see patients face to face.
“They are, but the one thing GP practices should not be doing is having people walking out more ill than they came in.
“Most GPs have waiting rooms that are often packed, they were never designed for social distancing, therefore if we were trying to regain normality we would have people who are elderly, many clinically vulnerable, who would be at risk.
“I do not agree the pandemic is behind us, far from it, infections are as high as during previous lockdowns.
“It’s a case of being sensible.”