FILE PHOTO: Signage on display at the window of a local government supplying free antigen self-test kits, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, January 3, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

The NHS Confederation has urged the government to reconsider its ‘living with Covid’ plan and introduce mitigating actions that will help avoid further critical incidents being declared at the NHS front-line.

The organisation said the high rates of Covid is having a major impact on the delivery of health services and slowing down efforts to reduce large waiting lists, noting that the country has been in the grip of another spike in Covid cases resulting from the Omicron BA.2 variant.

With more than 20,000 patients now in hospital with Covid (or who have Covid but are in hospital for other reasons) and high staff absences, NHS is facing huge operational challenges, harming efforts to reduce waiting times in other areas, it said.

“NHS leaders and their teams recognise the need to ‘live with Covid’ as we move towards what the government hopes will become an endemic stage of the pandemic. However, they report a clear disconnect between the government’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan and the realities they are facing at the NHS front line.” NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew 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.

He said the NHS leaders and their teams feel abandoned by the government and they deserve better.

“No 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. It is now unclear that anyone in the centre of government feels the unfolding NHS crisis is their responsibility.

“We have been promised a ‘living with Covid’ plan yet all we have is a ‘living without restrictions’ ideology.”

Taylor called for stronger messages to the public on taking precautions to reduce opportunities for the virus to spread and getting booster vaccinations and continuing proper Covid funding until the virus is genuinely under control.

He also called for a medium-term plan for reducing the risk of respiratory diseases including mask wearing and ventilation in public spaces.

“Covid is far from over as ministers appear to want to believe and we urge them to get a grip on this – both for the current spike in infections but also for potential future ones,” he added.

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