The Government has left the health service to cope with a surge in demand as cases spike, health leaders have warned

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The NHS Confederation has announced that health service leaders and their teams ‘feel abandoned’, and called on the DHSC to revise its ‘Living with COVID’ strategy, saying there was a ‘clear disconnect’ between the plan and the realities faced on the NHS front-line.

The more infectious Omicron variant has led to more than 20,000 patients being currently hospitalised with COVID-19, critically high demand for emergency care services, lengthening waiting lists, and NHS staff absences, it said.

‘No one in Government is taking responsibility’

In a remark aimed at Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, and the DHSC, Mathew Taylor, NHS Confederation Chief Executive, said: ‘Number 10 has seemingly abandoned any interest in COVID whatsoever. The Treasury has taken bites out of the already very tight NHS budget, while soaring inflation means the NHS settlement is now worth less.’

As a result, it is ‘now unclear that anyone in the centre of Government feels the unfolding NHS crisis is their responsibility’, he added.

Last week, health bodies warned of current strain on health services, with NHS Providers raising concerns that the NHS is ‘running hot’. It came after a clutch of official data showed high levels of bed occupancy in England, persistent staff absences, and pressure on emergency care.

The figures also show that there were 21,432 delays of half an hour or longer recorded for patients arriving by ambulance at all acute trusts in England in the week ending 3 April, which equates to 26.9% of arrivals.

Mr Taylor said:‘The brutal reality for staff and patients is that this Easter in the NHS is as bad as any winter. But instead of the understanding and support NHS staff received during 2020 and 2021, we have a Government that seems to want to wash its hands of responsibility for what is occurring in plain sight in local services up and down the country.’

Review of how to live with COVID-19

The NHS Confederation called for:

  • honesty in Government messaging to the public about the scale of the current impact of COVID-19
  • a public information campaign aimed at encouraging people to resume behaviours that to keep infection rates down, including mask wearing in crowded public spaces, meeting up outdoors when possible, and isolating when unwell
  • encouragement of the public to select the right choice when accessing healthcare, and only visiting A&E departments when they have an emergency
  • a review of NHS infection prevention control measures to free up more capacity in the NHS to treat non-COVID-19 patients
  • a reassessment of elective and other key NHS targets that takes into account the current pressures caused by COVID-19, particularly the more transmissible BA.2 variant of Omicron
  • additional funding from the Government to cover the direct costs of COVID-19, such as lateral flow tests for health workers.

‘We need to be realistic about what the NHS can be expected to achieve in the face of very high COVID levels, rising demand for urgent and emergency care, and backlog pressures,’ said Mr Taylor. ‘We also need proper COVID funding to continue until the virus is genuinely under control, and we need a medium-term plan for reducing the risk of respiratory diseases, including mask wearing and ventilation in public spaces.’

A spokesperson for the DHSC said: ‘As a result of the success of our vaccination and antivirals programmes, alongside increased public understanding on managing risk, we have been able to open up and start living with COVID. Our public health guidance and free testing is now focused on groups who are most at risk from the virus.

‘We are working tirelessly to tackle the COVID backlog and the introduction of the Health and Social Care Levy will provide additional £39bn in funding, alongside £10 billion to recover health services.

‘While we continue to monitor the data, there are currently no plans to change our approach.’

This article was originally published on Medscape UK, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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