Health

UK's Covid outbreak rebounds as infections rise 11% in a week to 48,374


Britain’s Covid crisis appeared to pick up again today with cases and deaths increasing together for the first time in four days, according to Government statistics.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data show Britain recorded 48,374 new cases over the last 24 hours, up 10.8 per cent on last week’s total of 43,676.

It was the first time the amount of positive tests increased week-on-week since last Friday, despite eight new cases of the supermutant Omicron variant being detected in England yesterday, bringing the UK’s total to 22.

Likewise, the number of people dying with the virus increased 14.8 per cent to 171 today, up from 149 recorded last Wednesday.

But hospitalisations continued to fall, with 706 people admitted to hospital with coronavirus on Saturday, the latest date data is available for.

The figures come after Sajid Javid today admitted GPs’ workload will be shifted to focus on the booster campaign in a dramatic U-turn — as fears grow that face-to-face appointments with doctors will once again take the hit.

The Health Secretary said getting third doses into people’s arms to protect against the Omicron variant had become the ‘new national mission’, after months of strong-arming GPs into seeing more non-Covid patients in-person.

No10 last night set the target of offering more than 50million booster jabs to every adult by the end of January, which will involve massively ramping up the current drive which is barely reaching 2.5m per week.

GPs will once again be a key anchor of the vaccination programme and will be incentivised with doctors getting £15 for every jab delivered with a £5 bonus per shot delivered on Sundays and a £30 premium for jabs delivered to vulnerable people in their homes. 

UK’s mammoth booster drive explained

– Every adult over the age of 18 in the UK will be offered a coronavirus booster jab by the end of January

– Jabs will be offered in five year descending age groups, starting with older adults and those who are most vulnerable before moving down 

– The NHS will contact people when they are eligible to book an appointment for a jab and are urging people not to come forward until they’ve been invited 

– Combined there will be nearly 3,000 sites across the UK offering vaccinations, nearly double current number 

– There will be 1,500 community pharmacy sites to administer jabs and all will be told to increase capacity  

– At least 400 military personnel will be deployed to assist NHS staff and volunteers to deliver the jabs  

 GPs and community pharmacists will be incentivised to deliver more jabs, with the payment for standard delivery of a vaccination increased to £15 a shot

– An extra £5 per shot will be offered to GPs and pharmacists if they work on Sundays

– A £30 premium will be offered to GPs and pharmacists for vaccinations delivered to people who are housebound

– The Care Quality Commission will continue a pause on routine inspections of general practice to free up clinicians’ time  

– The NHS is looking at eliminating the 15 minute wait post-vaccination to increase the number of people who can access smaller venues   

– The NHS is recruiting for up to 10,000 new paid vaccinator roles as well as for an army of ‘tens of thousands’ of new volunteers to help with the drive

– Unpaid volunteers will guide people at vaccination centres and must work at least two shifts each month

– The UK has delivered 18million boosters already which is more than any other country apart from the US and China

– 53million will eventually be eligible and 22m are eligible and have not had a booster now  

On another day of coronavirus chaos:

  • World Health Organization officials claimed most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ and there is no evidence the new variant has any impact on vaccine effectiveness against serious illness; 
  • Israeli health chiefs said people who get a booster Pfizer Covid vaccine or who had their second jab within six months should still be highly protected against Omicron;
  • Travel industry chiefs slammed Sage proposals to impose compulsory quarantine on all arrivals to the UK and force them to take pre-departure Covid tests regardless of whether or not they’ve been vaccinated 
  • NHS Lanarkshire sent letters offering appointments to people in the most vulnerable categories with dates and times to receive their next jab;
  • Tory MPs blasted the Government after it emerged new rules on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until March, sparking fears the curbs could remain in place far beyond a promised three week review; 
  • NHS trusts in England advised staff not to have Christmas parties this year in case they catch the Omicron variant and can’t come to work. 

The Government data showed 393,000 adults received their third booster vaccine dose yesterday, taking the total number of people fully vaccinated against the virus to 18.6million.

Some 30,500 received their first dose, while 32,000 were given second jabs.  

Asked if he would lighten the load for doctors who have complained about excess work, Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Yes —this is our new national mission in terms of the public health of this country there is nothing more important. 

‘We are working at pace with GP representatives in the last two days, in how we can free up some of their time. I won’t set that out now myself, it will be set out by NHS directly.’

There are fears on what impact re-prioritisation will have on face-to-face appointments with GPs which only last month crept up to 64 per cent last month, but are massively below pre-pandemic levels.

A report by the National Audit Office last night warned that there were up to 740,000 ‘missing’ urgent GP referrals for suspected cancers during the pandemic. 

There are also concerns about the wider impact the shift could have on non-Covid care, with record A&E wait times, and heart attack and stroke patients facing average waits for an ambulance of nearly an hour.

Mr Javid himself warned last month that emergency care was being put under significant strain because patients were struggling to see GPs in person. 

And when he was made Health Secretary in June, Mr Javid said addressing the NHS backlogs were his ‘top priority’ and insisted the country ‘has to learn to live with Covid’.

The Royal College of GPs warned that ‘decisions will have to be made’ because family doctors cannot keep pace with current demand and juggle the massive booster jab drive.

One NHS chief executive said getting GPs to lead the vaccination rollout was ‘a very big ask, on top of many other very big asks’, adding it would be extremely difficult to hit the January target due to a lack of medics, volunteers and facilities.

The above graph shows how the NHS waiting list could grow up to 2025. The National Audit Office warns if 50 per cent of missing patients return and demand grows at 3.2 per cent a year then the list could surge above 12million. But should the NHS manage to increase treatments dished out by more than 10 per cent a year then the list should stabilise at 8million in 2024 before falling slightly, they suggested

The above graph shows how the NHS waiting list could grow up to 2025. The National Audit Office warns if 50 per cent of missing patients return and demand grows at 3.2 per cent a year then the list could surge above 12million. But should the NHS manage to increase treatments dished out by more than 10 per cent a year then the list should stabilise at 8million in 2024 before falling slightly, they suggested

The proportion of cancer patients starting treatment within a month fell to the lowest level since records began in September, latest figures show. Records were started in 2009. The health service's own standards set out that 96 per cent of people should begin treatment, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, within 30 days of it being approved

The proportion of cancer patients starting treatment within a month fell to the lowest level since records began in September, latest figures show. Records were started in 2009. The health service’s own standards set out that 96 per cent of people should begin treatment, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, within 30 days of it being approved

In total 18million Britons have had a booster jab so far and, after yesterday's guidance change, all 53million adults over 18 will be eligible eventually. At the current rate of 2.4million jabs per week, it would take until March to get everyone boosted

In total 18million Britons have had a booster jab so far and, after yesterday’s guidance change, all 53million adults over 18 will be eligible eventually. At the current rate of 2.4million jabs per week, it would take until March to get everyone boosted

Despite the total A&E admissions in England being just two per cent more than August and  equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month (October) in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier

Despite the total A&E admissions in England being just two per cent more than August and  equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month (October) in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier

The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has reached 5.83million, official data revealed today marking the eleventh month in a row that the figure has hit a record high. Some 1.6million more Britons were waiting for elective surgery — such as hip and keen operations — at the end of September compared to the start of the pandemic

The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has reached 5.83million, official data revealed today marking the eleventh month in a row that the figure has hit a record high. Some 1.6million more Britons were waiting for elective surgery — such as hip and keen operations — at the end of September compared to the start of the pandemic

The NHS has long struggled to meet its recommended ambulance response times for Category 2 incidents which include medical emergencies such as strokes and severe burns but the last few months months have seen unprecedented rise with patients waiting nearly an hour on average for an ambulance after calling 999

The NHS has long struggled to meet its recommended ambulance response times for Category 2 incidents which include medical emergencies such as strokes and severe burns but the last few months months have seen unprecedented rise with patients waiting nearly an hour on average for an ambulance after calling 999  

So when CAN you book? NHS walk-in centres promote boosters for ALL over 18s from Saturday and GPs offer jabs next week…but health chiefs are STILL yet to call under-40s

The big push to offer boosters to all British adults is already in chaos today with two-month waits for jabs online while some GPs and NHS walk-in centres are already ignoring Government guidance and giving jabs to all over-18s immediately when the elderly or vulnerable still can’t get one before Christmas or within 30 miles of their home.

MailOnline has been inundated with emails from readers who have been eligible for a jab for weeks or even months but have been unable to get an appointment at all — or until the new year — because a third of mass vaccinations centres have closed in 2021.

Despite 500 new vaccination sites opening since April, the rate of vaccination has plunged from 800,000 per day in March this year to just 342,000 on average now. At the current rate, it will take three-and-a-half months for the programme to reach everybody — sometime in March.

With growing doubts over whether Boris Johnson can hit his 500,000 jabs-a-day target, one Government source said: ‘No date has yet been set for inviting under-40s’ while another insider said: ‘We should have fixed the roof while the sun was shining and boosted everyone weeks ago. Instead we’ve waited for a new variant to come and now it’s panic stations’.

Before today, about 18million people had received a booster out of 25million who could have come forward. But the change in advice means that 53million Britons in total will eventually qualify for a booster and Boris Johnson wants them all offered jabs by January 31.

Sajid Javid has urged the under-40s to be patient and wait for their GP to contact them — but it appears parts of the NHS and some pharmacies are taking matters into their own hands. Mr Javid himself caused confusion this week when he walked a journalist into the vaccination centre at a London hospital, even though Sky News’ Chief Political Correspondent Jon Craig near believed he wasn’t eligible for his third dose until Dec 14.

Park Royal Medical Practice, which is part of the Central Middlesex Hospital in west London, is advertising a mass vaccination event for ‘everyone’ over the age of 18 who is already double-jabbed, with at least three months since the last dose.

While at a NHS centre in Bristol, people were travelling for 30 miles or more because of a lack of availability in their area, but the wait was more than two hours and some people were turned away.

One 55-year-old from Kent who was invited to book one ten days ago told MailOnline that the NHS told her to go to Essex for a jab so she tried a walk in centre in Chatham but was turned away.

Another patient, who is 67, said he had been trying to book a booster on the 119 number for the past fortnight but has been told there is no availability and his GP says that he must wait to be contacted. One woman in her forties said the NHS website is refusing to let her book despite her being eligible on age grounds and because she is severely asthmatic.

Noting the target that everyone should have received an offer of a third Covid vaccine by the end of January, Mr Javid added: ‘This is a huge thing we are trying to achieve – it is essential that we do this.’  

But doctors have warned other aspects of their work will have to take a backseat as they shift to pritoritising vaccines. 

Mr Javid famously entered into a war of words with GPs earlier this year, demanding they increase the number of face-to-face appointments and, at one-point, threatening the profession with a ‘name and shame’ system for underperforming surgeries.  

Responding to the increased booster drive, vice chairman of the Royal College of GPs, Gary Howson hinted that decisions will need to be made on what kind of doctors can provide said: ‘GPs are already working to full capacity at the moment.

‘And if we’re going to divert our attention to the vaccination programme then there are some decisions that have to be made as to where we have most clinical value.’

Nodding to face-to-face appointments, Dr Howson added that GPs will have to prioritise some elements of their work in the coming months and called for greater Government support to slash the bureaucracy that eats into patient care. 

‘GPs are under immense pressure – we carried out 34million consultations in October, 2million more than September and 7million more than August and two thirds were face to face,’ he said.  

‘We need to understand what we will be able to stop doing. Tick box exercises, audits, and things that take us away from work and we need the Government to deliver on its manifesto pledges to bring in 6,000 more GPs, and 26,000 more team members by 2024.’ 

The Government has already drafted 400 army medics and 1,500 pharmacies are in to the booster campaign to turbocharge the pace of the rollout. 

But in potential a sign of things to come Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA’s England GP committee yesterday said that less urgent appointments like routine blood pressure checks should go. ‘We are bound by these contracts. We have been calling for that to be lifted for months now. We are a burnt out workforce’, she said. 

‘What we are asking for a refocus of clinical priorities. We simply cannot deliver everything. We need to focus on clinical need. At this moment on time, the focus has to be on rolling out a monumental vaccination and booster programme and all hands on deck. We can deliver that but we are distracted by scattergun priorities. We do need to be released from contractual responsibilities’. 

If the number of face-to-face GP appointments suffers from the push for Covid boosters, it will be a blow to patients who have recently seen an uptick in being able to see doctors in person although the number is massively below pre-pandemic levels.

NHS England data shows 64 per cent of GP appointments in October were face-to-face, compared to eight in 10 before the pandemic.

Last month, Mr Javid announced a £250million package for GP surgeries to help doctors offer more in-person consultations.

But the plans, which included ‘naming and shaming’ practices not offering sufficient numbers of face-to-face appointments, were rejected by doctors. 

Medics have argued some patients prefer virtual consultations because they are more convenient, but there are reports of vulnerable people not getting the access they desperately need. 

And coroners have warned that remote appointments may have contributed to deaths.  

One NHS chief executive said getting GPs to lead the vaccination rollout was ‘a very big ask, on top of many other very big asks’, adding it would be extremely difficult to hit the January target due to a lack of medics, volunteers and facilities.

And one GP practice manager tweeted: ‘Cash won’t make much difference, it’s the workload & workforce that’s the problem. Is not just jabbers but the back room engine tracking and calling patients, organising rotas, sorting out logistics etc’.

Vulnerable people turned away at booster appointment after NHS error

NHS Lanarkshire sent letters offering appointments to people in the most vulnerable categories with dates and times to receive their next jab.

But when they arrived at vaccination centres including South Lanarkshire Council’s headquarters in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, staff had to turn people away.

Letters had already been sent out when the error was noticed by staff and a number of those affected could not be contacted.

Bosses said an admin error led to people on the vulnerable list being wrongly offered booster appointments before the recommended time limits between jags had passed.

NHS Lanarkshire has vowed to ensure all those affected by the error are offered a booster jab after the 24 week period has passed.

One woman turned up for her booster jab at Hamilton but was turned away because her appointment letter had been incorrectly sent.

She said: ‘I’m in the vulnerable category and was delighted when my letter arrived with the appointment to come and get the booster.

‘But when I arrived I was turned away at the door and told that because of an error I wouldn’t be able to get my jab and would have to wait.

‘It seemed to be happening to a fair few of us in the queue.

‘I wasn’t told there had been an error and it really should have been picked up sooner than it was.’

 

The potential consequences of a lack of GP face-to-face appointments were laid bare yesterday after a National Audit Office report detailed millions of patients had missed out on vital care during the pandemic – and could now return to the health service to increase the backlog.  

One key aspect of this was between 240,000 and 740,000 ‘missing’ urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer from March 2020 to September 2021. And between 35,000 and 60,000 fewer people started treatment for cancer than would have been expected during this time frame.

The report authors said it is uncertain how many ‘missing’ cases will return to the NHS over the coming months.

But if 50 per cent seek treatment, and activity continues to grow in line with pre-pandemic plans, the waiting list would reach 12 million by March 2025.

The current waiting list for NHS care already stands at a record 5.83 million.

NHS England data shows that in February 2020, just 83 per cent of patients were seen within the 18-week standard. By last month, this had fallen to 66 per cent. 

The NAO report also suggested Boris Johnson’s controversial new ‘health and social care levy’ would be inadequate to prevent hospital waiting lists continuing to soar. The report is likely to add to fears the NHS will swallow up almost all of the money from the new levy in the coming years, leaving little for the collapsing social care sector. 

The impact of the Covid backlog is also being felt in the nation’s A&E departments.

Despite total emergency department admissions in England being in October being equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier.

And average ambulance response time for heart attack and stroke patients is now nearly an hour, which paramedics admitted is putting patients’ lives ‘at risk’. 999 response times for category two calls are now three times above the health service’s 18-minute safety target. 

Boris Johnson unveiled the ramped-up booster drive yesterday to shield the nation against the Omicron variant, after eight more cases of the strain were found in England. 

As part of the plans the Government is also recruiting 10,000 more paid vaccine volunteers and ‘tens of thousands’ more unpaid volunteers to help with the mammoth booster drive as well as drafting in 1,500 community pharmacies.  



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