GPs' workload will be slashed to focus on 'new national mission' booster drive


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  

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.

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.

Health secretary Sajid Javid has said the new 'national mission' for the health system was delivering vaccines, adding that there was 'noting more important'

Health secretary Sajid Javid has said the new ‘national mission’ for the health system was delivering vaccines, adding that there was ‘noting more important’ 

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  

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. 

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.

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’.

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.

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 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. 

But Tory MPs today 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.

A new restriction came into force yesterday which will require people who have been in contact with a case of the Omicron coronavirus variant to self-isolate for 10 days or risk a fine of up to £10,000.

Boris Johnson has said that rule, along with requirements to wear face masks in shops and on public transport and for returning travellers to take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival, will be reviewed before Christmas.

But the regulations underpinning the self-isolation rule are not due to expire until March 24, prompting a backlash from anti-lockdown Tories.

Conservative MPs have expressed concerns that the new rule could cause a fresh ‘pingdemic’ which could devastate the economy and education system.

But Mr Javid dismissed those concerns as he said the current number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’ with 22 confirmed cases across the UK.

Self-isolation rules will be in law until MARCH 

Tory MPs have 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. 

A new restriction came into force yesterday which will require people who have been in contact with a case of the Omicron coronavirus variant to self-isolate for 10 days or risk a fine of up to £10,000. 

Boris Johnson has said that rule, along with requirements to wear face masks in shops and on public transport and for returning travellers to take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival, will be reviewed before Christmas. 

But the regulations underpinning the self-isolation rule are not due to expire until March 24, prompting a backlash from anti-lockdown Tories. 

Conservative MPs have expressed concerns that the new rule could cause a fresh ‘pingdemic’ which could devastate the economy and education system. 

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid today dismissed those concerns as he said the current number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’ with 22 confirmed cases across the UK. 

Mr Javid also joined Boris Johnson in telling people they do not need to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays. 

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief Dr Jenny Harries sparked Tory fury yesterday after she said people should limit socialising to slow the spread of the variant. 

Mr Johnson rejected that advice as he said the Government had already put in place a package of ‘balanced and proportionate measures’ in response to the threat posed by Omicron. 

Mr Javid echoed that position this morning as he said people ‘should continue to behave in the way that they were planning to behave over Christmas’ and ‘I don’t think there is any need to change those plans’.

However, the Health Secretary risked plunging the new rules into further chaos after he said he would take a Covid test before attending a Christmas party. 

He said that testing before a party is ‘not a formal recommendation in the guidance’ but he would take a test if he was attending such an event as a ‘sensible precaution’.   

 

He also echoed comments from the prime minister in telling people they do not need to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief Dr Jenny Harries sparked Tory fury yesterday after she said people should limit socialising to slow the spread of the variant.

Mr Johnson rejected that advice as he said the Government had already put in place a package of ‘balanced and proportionate measures’ in response to the threat posed by Omicron.

Mr Javid repeated that position this morning as he said people ‘should continue to behave in the way that they were planning to behave over Christmas’ and ‘I don’t think there is any need to change those plans’.

However, the Health Secretary risked plunging the new rules into further chaos after he said he would take a Covid test before attending a Christmas party.

He said that testing before a party is ‘not a formal recommendation in the guidance’ but he would take a test if he was attending such an event as a ‘sensible precaution’.

But Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, said lots of hospitals are asking workers ‘not to mix in big groups’ over the festive period.

NHS bosses are trying to limit the ‘potential threat’ to medics’ health and the knock-on effect catching the virus will have on ‘what they will be available to do’.

She said it is for ‘individuals and individual organisations to think about what they will be doing in the run up to Christmas’ and the approach taken by some trusts is ‘one example’ of what people can do.

MPs voted yesterday to overwhelmingly support Mr Johnson’s new rule on self-isolation by 431 votes to 36, as 32 Tories rebelled to vote against it.

Tory backbenchers are worried that while the Government has said the restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks, ministers could subsequently act to keep them in place.

The rule on compulsory face masks will expire on December 20 but the rule on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until March 24.

Former chief whip Mark Harper raised the expiry date issue with Vaccine Minister Maggie Throup yesterday as he said: ‘The Government have said that they are going to review these measures after three weeks and she is right—on the face masks, the regulations expire on 20 December—but the self-isolation SI (statutory instrument) has no expiry date, which means it will run all the way until the main statutory instrument expires on 24 March 2022. Why is that?’

Ms Throup said Mr Harper had made a ‘very good point’ but insisted ‘we will not continue to have these regulations in place for any longer than is necessary’.

Mr Harper said: ‘While ministers have been clear that the regulations will be reviewed in three weeks… the regulations are not time limited; they amend another set of regulations that do not have an expiry date until March next year.

‘Although the minister tells me that they will not be enforced for a day longer than necessary, she must recognise that, given the events of the past few weeks and how ministers handled, among other things, the standards measures, there has been a diminution in trust between backbenchers and ministers.’

Government sources told Politico that the March date is the result of a technical issue relating to how the change was made in legislation and have stressed the important moment is the three-week review.

The new rule on self-isolation has prompted fears among Tory MPs of a potential return to the ‘pingdemic’ which wreaked havoc across the country earlier this year as thousands of people were told to stay at home.

Tory MP Steve Brine said: ‘We are not just looking at a pingdemic in our economy and in our businesses; we are looking at a pingdemic that will devastate education again.

‘After everything that we have learned—everything that I have felt in my own family—are we really, seriously, going to do that to our children again?’

Fellow Tory MP Craig Mackinlay said: ‘I am afraid that the proposals mean we are going to fall into a new pingdemic.’

But Mr Javid today said he is not worried about a potential ‘pingdemic’ because the number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’.

He told Sky News: ‘No, no I am not. At this point in time the case numbers are very low. I think throughout the UK we have got 22 confirmed cases at the moment.

The Botswana variant has around 50 mutations and more than 30 of them are on the spike protein. The current crop of vaccines trigger the body to recognise the version of the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But the mutations may make the spike protein look so different that the body's immune system struggles to recognise it and fight it off. And three of the spike mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it enter the body's cells more easily. Meanwhile, it is missing a membrane protein (NSP6) which was seen in earlier iterations of the virus, which experts think could make it more infectious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) that have been present in all variants of concern so far and have been linked with infectiousness

The Botswana variant has around 50 mutations and more than 30 of them are on the spike protein. The current crop of vaccines trigger the body to recognise the version of the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But the mutations may make the spike protein look so different that the body’s immune system struggles to recognise it and fight it off. And three of the spike mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it enter the body’s cells more easily. Meanwhile, it is missing a membrane protein (NSP6) which was seen in earlier iterations of the virus, which experts think could make it more infectious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) that have been present in all variants of concern so far and have been linked with infectiousness 

NHS trusts start cancelling big Xmas parties and telling staff ‘stick to small groups’ due to Omicron fears 

Many NHS trusts have asked staff not to host big Christmas parties over fears the new Omicron variant will make them unable to work, a health chief revealed today.  

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, said lots of hospitals are asking workers ‘not to mix in big groups’ over the festive period.

NHS bosses are trying to limit the ‘potential threat’ to medics’ health and the knock-on effect catching the virus will have on ‘what they will be available to do’.

It comes amid conflicting advice on what Britons should do in the run up to Christmas following the emergence of the super mutant Omicron variant. 

The Government has not imposed any restrictions on social mixing, with current legal curbs instead requiring people to wear masks in certain settings, as well as isolate and get tested when traveling into the UK.

But Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, yesterday said people should minimise their contacts ‘ a little bit’ to keep the variant at bay.

The Prime Minister disagreed with the advice during a Downing Street press conference yesterday afternoon, urging people not to cancel Christmas parties or nativity plays. 

And Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning said people should ‘go ahead’ with Christmas parties, but it would be a ‘sensible precaution’ to take a Covid test before attending.

‘Now, that will go up, it will certainly go up, but the numbers are low, I hope it sort of stays that way.

‘So, I am not worried about a pingdemic type situation but we have always also said that even before we knew about the variant in our Plan A we have always been clear that as you get into deeper winter, the colder, darker days, the virus likes that, not just this virus, the flu virus, they like that.

‘So as we do that then people should just be careful to try and think can they ventilate a room and just follow the current guidance.’

Dr Harries sparked a Tory backlash and warnings from the hospitality industry yesterday after she said decreasing social contact ‘a little bit’ could help slow the spread of the new variant.

She said that ‘if we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay’.

Downing Street subsequently slapped down the advice as it stressed a reduction in socialising is not part of the Government’s response to Omicron.

Mr Johnson later echoed a similar sentiment at a Number 10 press conference as he said Christmas parties should still go ahead.

Mr Javid was asked for his opinion on the issue this morning as he said: ‘I think people should continue to behave in the way that they were planning to behave over Christmas.

‘I don’t think there is any need to change those plans. The only changes that have been made in the last few days are the ones that everyone now knows about.

‘It might effect your international travel plans, so if someone had plans to travel over Christmas then there could be an impact there.

‘There is the need to self-isolate if you come into contact with someone with Omicron.’

The Health Secretary was also asked if people should take a coronavirus test before attending a Christmas party.

He replied: ‘I would. I would. It is not a formal recommendation in the guidance but if I was going to a party with lots of party and things I would.

‘But I would have done that by the way even before we knew about this variant.

‘Again, the reason I would have done that is because it is getting cold, it is getting darker, we are spending more time indoors, probably more people indoors than before just because of the colder, darker days, so a sensible precaution that everyone can take.’

NHS waiting list could DOUBLE to 12 million in just four years: Millions of patients who missed out on vital care during Covid pandemic could increase huge backlog, damning report warns 

By ELEANOR HAYWARD FOR THE DAILY MAIL 

NHS waiting lists could double to 12 million by 2025 despite billions more in taxpayers’ cash being pumped into our hospital wards, a damning report has concluded.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said millions of patients had missed out on vital care during the pandemic – and could now return to the health service to increase the backlog.

The number currently waiting for NHS care already stands at a record 5.83 million. But the NAO warned this could double to 12 million in a little over three years.

Its report also warned the health service was falling dramatically short on all key targets – including cancer care – with the ‘catastrophic’ consequences costing lives.

And it 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. 

Yesterday’s study by the NAO – an independent watchdog that scrutinises public spending for Parliament – provides the most in-depth assessment to date of the horrifying legacy of the pandemic on non-Covid care.

Even under its best case scenario, the NAO said the number of people in England waiting for routine care – currently at a record 5.8 million – will increase to 7 million in 2025.

But if the NHS were to perform activity at pre-pandemic levels, this would actually reach 12 million by 2025 – meaning one fifth of the population was caught in the backlog.

Experts warned if the Omicron variant leads to more disruption and lockdowns this winter there will be an ‘even bigger mountain to climb’. The report said up to 9.1 million patients missed out on referrals for elective care, saying ‘millions have avoided seeking or been unable to obtain healthcare during the pandemic’.

Many were put off seeking help due to the Government’s ‘stay at home message’, while others had vital operations and appointments cancelled as hospitals dealt with an influx of Covid-19 patients.

The NAO said it had been ‘impossible’ for the NHS to maintain cancer care throughout the crisis and treatment including chemotherapy ‘dropped significantly’. There were 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 authors of the report 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.

If the NHS meets the Government’s target of increasing activity by 10 per cent more than planned, the waiting list would stand at 7 million in 2025.

The Government’s new 1.25 per cent hike in national insurance, coming into force in April, will raise an extra £36billion over three years for the NHS and social care.

Of this, £8billion will go specifically to addressing the backlog. 

However, the NAO said it was uncertain whether this funding would be enough to reduce waiting times and address long-term problems in the health service.

It noted ‘waiting time performance had been gradually deteriorating’ since 2013 and ‘the pandemic heaped yet more pressure on a care system that was already creaking under the strain’.

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 report said it will be impossible to clear the waiting list unless workforce shortages – of around 100,000 doctors, nurses and other NHS staff – are addressed. It also warned ‘the ongoing pandemic may continue to affect bed and staff availability in unexpected ways and at short notice’.

The NAO report said if the backlog is to be cleared, social care needs support so elderly patients do not end up trapped in hospital.

Tim Mitchell, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the projection that waiting lists could hit 12 million was ‘very worrying’ but ‘will not come as a surprise’.

He called for the creation of ‘surgical hubs’ to tackle the backlog, adding: ‘Frustrated patients who have been left waiting in pain for hip, knee, heart and other vital operations, want to know there is a plan to reduce waiting times.’

A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘NHS staff are now pulling out all the stops to recover elective activity levels, so anyone who is concerned about their health should come forward so the NHS can help you.’ 

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