As we get close to a second Christmas under Covid, everyone is worrying about the latest Covid variant – Omicron – and we wanted to bring together some of the news and analysis about the latest variant and how it is likely to affect the NHS.
Omicron has raised concerns due to its rapid spread, beginning with cases in South Africa, which went from 3,402 reported cases to 8,561 from 26th November to 1st December. Omicron has been spreading drastically over the last three weeks in the UK which has led to new controls across the UK and Europe, including a new Stay At Home order in England, which came into effect on Monday
In response, the government has stepped up its booster programme for the Covid vaccine, and as of today (December 15th), everyone 18+ can get the booster. We have already seen the life-saving impact that the vaccination programme has had since it was introduced earlier this year. Numerous studies have shown how vaccines greatly reduce mortality risk, likelihood of hospital admission, and likelihood of transmission within households. Boosters are the next vital step in the programme as we tackle another new variant.
Some have been frustrated this week by long lines at vaccination centres, or online traffic crashing the NHS website, but it is all worth it in the fight against Covid. You can book on the NHS website or visit a walk-in vaccination centre, as long as it’s been at least 2 months since you got your second.
An astonishing more than half a million people had booked their booster jab on Monday, and while we’re unlikely to hit the target of having all over-18s fully vaccinated by the end of the year, it is important to aim for that goal. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she could not guarantee that everyone would receive their vaccination by the end of the year, but hoped that 80% would be done. The vaccine isn’t compulsory but all frontline NHS staff in England (with some exceptions) must be fully vaccinated by 1st April. Care home staff in England must already be vaccinated (unless exempt).
At SQ, we strongly support the new campaign, as do most medics working in the NHS, but it is also important to consider the consequences this will have on the NHS and on non-Covid patients. There is already talk of cancelling elective treatments, and once again we’d expect the NHS waiting lists to grow. Many NHS staff and other volunteers will need to take part in delivering the extensive vaccination programme, and there are already staff shortages caused by sickness, burnout and reduced travel lowering the numbers of overseas trainees entering the NHS. We must face the fact that the lists will be longer but everyone needs to do their part by going back to properly social distancing, getting vaccinated and appropriately boosted.
For our part, we will continue to work with the NHS to find ways to use existing NHS staff and resources more effectively in order to support more patients, so that our healthcare system is better able to adapt to new threats. Improving patient flows is also essential in clearing down the backlog of treatments which we will face after another set of Covid restrictions.
We’d like to finish on some good news – it was reported yesterday (December 14th), that Omicron is causing up to a third fewer hospitalizations than Delta did, so hopefully there will still be a chance for a Merry Christmas this year!