Health bosses call for rethink on relaxing Covid restrictions as patient numbers soar

The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust in Harlow saw record numbers in A&E for June.

The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust in Harlow saw record numbers in A&E for June. - Credit: Archant

A&E departments in Essex saw record numbers of patients last month – as NHS leaders urge the Government to reconsider relaxing Covid restrictions next week.

A huge spike in demand for non-Covid related urgent healthcare – combined with another surge in coronavirus cases – has led to unprecedented demand across England, according to the NHS Confederation.

A total of 34,265 people visited Mid and South Essex NHS Trust’s A&Es in June – the highest number since monthly records began in June 2015.

Numbers were 42 per cent higher than in June last year during lockdown.

Of those arriving in A&E this June, 87 per cent were admitted, discharged or transferred within four hours.

That was down from 90 per cent in May, and below the target of 95 per cent.

The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust in Harlow also saw record numbers in A&E, with 10,589 attendances in June. Of those 71.0 per cent waited less than four hours.

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Dr Simon Walsh, deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, said: “Seeing the extraordinary rise in the numbers of people going to emergency departments serves to reinforce the need for the Government to reconsider its plans to relax all Covid restrictions from July 19.

“Overcrowded emergency departments already cause harm, even without a pandemic, so it seems utterly illogical that the Government is pushing ahead with full easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“When you add that to the news that there are now 5.3 million people on the waiting list, it’s vital that we keep infections down to reduce the pressure on the NHS as much as possible.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: “A significant Covid surge this summer will place even more strain on an urgent care system struggling to cope, and this will have a direct and immediate impact on the care the NHS can provide to patients.

“Many of our organisations are running far too hot and are much busier than they have historically been at this time of year. Our staff are also exhausted after a gruelling 18 months, yet a huge demand for healthcare has left the NHS buckling under the strain of running a winter-like service in summer.

“The NHS has been working at full pelt to reinstate services and get patients back through its doors as quickly as possible, with operations and other activity at 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

“However, there is growing concern among NHS leaders that the rapidly rising demand for urgent and emergency care will threaten to slow down their attempts to recover the huge and rising elective care backlog.”

NHS England figures for May show progress was being made on waiting lists and cancer care. Patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for elective care dropped by more than 80,000 in May.

While those waiting more than a year fell by 50,000 for the second month in a row.

Meanwhile, the number of people getting checked for cancer continues to be high and above pre-pandemic levels with 207,188 people getting checked in May – over 100,000 more than in the same month last year.

Stephen Powis, NHS medical director professor, said: “Despite the huge disruption we have seen to care caused by the pandemic and the more than 405,000 Covid patients in our hospitals over the last 15 months, it is reassuring to see in today’s figures significant reductions in waits for routine operations, and for the first time this year, a reduction in the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment.

“All the while, NHS staff have dealt with rising numbers of A&E attendances while continuing to roll out the NHS Covid Vaccination Programme and I would urge anyone who needs a routine operation to come forward, and anyone who needs urgent care, to go to NHS 111 Online or call 111 so that the best option for you can be determined.”