What threat does the emergence of Omicron represent for the NHS? Among hospital bosses, there is a curious combination of apprehension that the new variant could lead to an increase in infections, but also a fight-weary belief, born out of negotiating previous waves of Covid-19, that they can. manage a potentially large increase in the number of people with severe disease.
“The trusts are already making contingency plans to find out what would happen if there was a significant spread of this variant and it turned out that the symptoms and resulting illness are as severe as with the variant.” Delta, ”said Chris Hopson, the managing director of NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts in England.
He added: ‘If it turns out that this variant escapes vaccines, it is clear that the NHS will see a significantly higher number of cases than it currently has. Hopson pointed out that when the second wave was at its worst in January, hospitals in England were treating 34,000 people with Covid. Monday was much, much less – only 6,094.
He said: “The general manager of a district general hospital told me today that they are studying plans to expand their intensive care capacity and general respiratory support capacity, because that is exactly what. they were supposed to do last January when we had over 34,000 cases.
“The CEO said that a benefit of having had this massive and sudden increase last January was that we know what is needed now if the numbers rise significantly again. “
A return to this number of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients would again force hospitals to cancel planned operations, he said. “If we get close to the 34,000 cases we saw in January, then something should give way. Elective surgery could be canceled. As we saw last January, we should prioritize [care] based on clinical need.
For now, however, Hopson is confident that hospitals can cope if Omicron wreaks havoc. ” [In January] the NHS has shown how resilient and effective it is in times of extreme pressure. That’s what the NHS is really good at: dealing with short-term crises and the problems thrown at us. “
But others are more concerned. An intensive care consultant said: “The system is very fragile right now, so Omicron could have absolutely no impact – or turn things around and lead to a complete collapse. No one really knows.
“People have the same air of uncertainty and apprehension now as they did in March 2020. What I know is no one is ready for another race around the track. “
A spokesperson for the School of Critical Care Medicine, which represents doctors in this specialty across the UK, echoed the nervousness.
They said: “The faculty is very concerned about the reports of the new Omicron variant. The NHS is already facing one of the worst winters in its history. We urge members of the public to follow all social distancing measures and safety protocols to reduce transmission and ease the strain on intensive care units. “
Dr Sue Crossland, the immediate outgoing president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said uncertainty surrounding Omicron’s transmissibility, its symptoms and also whether existing vaccines would limit its impact meant it was too early to know. how much that could add to the many pressures the NHS was already under.
She said: “If it’s more communicable, even though it’s milder in general, we’ll see more hospitalizations – how many unknown is? Given the current capacity issues, even a small increase could cause problems. But we just don’t know. As always, I remain worried.
The new variant could affect the NHS in another way, by increasing the already high number of employees on sick leave, have warned employers of the NHS, which is part of the NHS Confederation.
“Health officials will have some concerns about the impact the new self-isolation requirements could have on their workforce,” said Danny Mortimer, the organization’s chief executive.