The head of the NHS in England has warned NHS staff will be “stretched” during what she predicted would be an “unprecedented” winter.
Amanda Pritchard said the next 100 days will be “significantly” challenging for the NHS and said she recognised “how difficult winter is going to be”.
Her comments come after The Independent revealed patients are dying while waiting for paramedics, following a collapse in ambulance response times which has seen a spike in serious incidents across all NHS ambulance trusts.
Ms Pritchard said: “We are pulling out all the stops to vaccinate as many people as possible, we cannot know the impact that Covid, flu or other respiratory diseases will have on the health and care sector in the coming weeks and months.
“We are simply facing an unprecedented situation, but as I said in my first week: I am optimistic, but realistic, about the challenges ahead.”
Writing in the Health Service Journal, Ms Pritchard, who took over from Simon Stevens as chief executive of NHS England in July, added: “The next 100 days are likely to be significantly more challenging and I want every member of NHS staff to know that I recognise how difficult the coming winter is going to be. I am concerned by how stretched we – and our colleagues in social care – are, before we have even reached what are traditionally the busiest winter months.”
She said NHS staff were delivering “extraordinary results” recovering services after the pandemic with the latest figures for August showing diagnostic tests were up a fifth and routine surgery up a third compared to a year ago.
In September the she told staff the NHS had experienced its “toughest” summer ever and warned during an October board meeting that the situation would get worse over winter.
Health secretary Sajid Javid faced criticism last month for claiming at a Downing Street press conference he did not believe pressure on the NHS was unsustainable.
The Independent has reported on the unfolding summer crisis hitting NHS services since June with operations, including cancer, being delayed and soldiers being brought in to help drive ambulances.
Every ambulance trust in the country has now raised their alert levels to their highest point, which describes them as facing “extreme pressure”. Some have been at this level since June.
NHS data published in October revealed A&E departments had 2.1 million people turning up at hospital — the worst waiting times on record. September also saw a record number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E for a hospital bed.
In a statement on Monday, Ms Pritchard urged the public to come forward for their Covid-19 jab, with more than 4.5 million people yet to have their first dose.
She added: “Statistics this week showed that the risk of death involving Covid-19 is 32 times greater in unvaccinated people than in those who had received both doses.
“Anybody who received their first dose before the end of October will be able to receive a second dose before the new year.”
The Department for Health and Social Care has said anyone over 50 and all those at risk can now pre-book their Covid-19 booster jabs for six months after their second dose.
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