Senior health chief warns NHS may have to go on pandemic footing this winter to protect service

The NHS may need to impose Covid-style restrictions this winter as hospitals brace themselves for a surge in demand as the cost-of-living crisis begins to bite.

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor has said there needs to be an ‘honest conversation’ with the public about what the health service will be able to manage over the winter and beyond.

He said there are steps people took during the pandemic to protect the NHS ‘that we need to be thinking about again, because we are in a situation of crisis’.

Speaking to Times Radio, he said: ‘Now, the two things that were critical about Covid was, first of all, we said in a sense, ‘don’t worry about the rules, the regulations and the targets, do whatever you need to do to solve the problem’.

‘I think we need that similar spirit at the moment — we need to devolve to local leaders to do whatever it is they need to do to deal with the really pressing problems like ambulance waiting times, for example.

NHS official figures revealed that 6.7 million people in England were waiting for routine hospital treatment in July – or one in eight of the population

‘The second thing we did in Covid was we, the public, made a really big contribution. We tested ourselves, we stayed at home, we wore masks, we did things to try to relieve the pressure on the health service.

‘I think, again, in the position we’re in now going into winter and beyond, we need an honest conversation with the public about what it is the health service is going to be able to while we have this capacity (gap).’

Record bed-blocking is hampering efforts to combat the emergency care crisis, NHS leaders warned last night.

NHS leaders warned on Saturday that record bed-bloking figures are hampering efforts to combat the emergency health crisis.

Over than 13,500 hospital beds – one in seven – are currently occupied by patients declared fit for discharge by doctors.

This figure is triple that of the pre-pandemic. Since overnight NHS stays cost around £400 — this could be leaving the health service £5.5million a day out of pocket.

Ambulance response times to emergency calls such as burns, epilepsy and strokes increased to nearly an hour – triple the target of 18 minutes

Bed-blocking has a knock-on effect on ambulance delays as 999 crews are forced to wait outside hospital buildings until patients can access a free bed, contributing to delays in emergency response times.

Category two calls — including heart attacks and strokes — currently have an average response time of 59 minutes, whereas the target is just 18 minutes.

Each month, some 100,000 patients spend 12 hours in casualty waiting for a bed to be free.

The £13billion-a-year national insurance hike is intended to boost social care but only once the backlog in NHS waiting lists has been cleared – a process expected to take several years.

Elsewhere, it is reported the number of ambulance staff is falling despite a rise in demand, according to an analysis by the Daily Mail.

Since April 2019, the workforce in England has been steadily increasing but it has recently dropped for three months, NHS figures reveal.

From October last year to March this year, the number stayed above 18,000, while it now stands at 17,847 — the lowest since September last year.

A large union for ambulance staff said its members were quitting the profession en masse due to ‘unbelievable stress and even abuse’ while trying to care for sick people.

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