Plan B is working, says minister despite NHS trusts declaring critical incidents

‘I don’t see any reason why we need to change’, says vaccines minister ahead of cabinet meeting

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 04 January 2022 10:02
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Vaccines minister says ‘Plan B is working’

Boris Johnson’s plan B measures to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant in England is working, the vaccine minister has said, despite hospitals across the country declaring critical incidents.

Six NHS trusts declared critical incidents – where bosses are concerned they may not be able to provide priority services – while the NHS Confederation said the health service was is in “a state of crisis”.

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup said on Tuesday that “plan B is working” and indicated the government would not heed calls for further restrictions.

“As you can see from the number of hospitalisations – it’s far, far fewer than this time last year. The vaccines are working. The measures to get people working from home are working,” she told Sky News.

Ms Throup added: “There will be a cabinet meeting today, and I don’t see any reason why we need to change.”

It comes as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called for a more “cautious” approach to restrictions in England to bring the country in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In a letter to health secretary Sajid Javid, the RCN’s council chair Carol Popplestone and general secretary Pat Cullen said the differences in restrictions across the UK were causing confusion.

“It is confusing and concerning that the different UK governments have set out their own different rules and regulations in relation to the management of the pandemic,” they said.

The nursing chiefs added: “We therefore ask that, as secretary of state for health and social care, you work with counterparts across government on a more cautious approach for England without further delay.”

England and Scotland recorded a combined 157,758 new cases of Covid on Monday, while the number of patients in hospitals across England with the disease reached 13,151 – up from 12,615 on New Year’s Day.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay became the latest to signal alarm, confirming on Monday evening that the trust had declared an “internal critical incident” and some non-urgent operations and procedures would be suspended.

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, public health director for Lancashire County Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the county was at “the foothills” of an Omicron wave. “Lancashire is beginning to experience what London did at the beginning of last month … we are bracing ourselves for a tsunami of Omicron cases in Lancashire.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: “In many parts of the health service, we are currently in a state of crisis.”

Mr Johnson insisted on Monday that no further Covid restrictions were needed in England, though he admitted that “the pressure on our NHS and on our hospitals is going to be considerable in the course of the next couple of weeks, and maybe more”.

Ms Throup also defended the government’s decision to stick with current measures, saying people being hospitalised with Covid are broadly showing less severe symptoms than before.

“At the moment, if you look at the people who have been hospitalised, they are going in with less severe conditions than before,” Ms Throup told Sky News. “The numbers that are in hospital beds is about half what it was a year ago – and that just shows the power of the vaccine.”

Ms Throup said she was “not sure” how many Britons were currently in self-isolation, and was not able to say how many hospitals were struggling with critical incidents.

“It is fast-moving ... it would be wrong of me to say a number, because shortly there could be another one, or another trust could actually say ‘No, we’re back on track now, we’re OK’,” she said.

Mr Johnson’s government will not be cutting the number of days spent in self isolation in England after contracting Covid from seven to five, the vaccines minister also confirmed.

“We’ve recently reduced it from 10 days to seven,” she told LBC. “At the moment, actually, we don’t feel it’s appropriate to reduce it any further because we will be very concerned that people will still be infectious and be able to pass on the disease.”

Asked about missed booster appointments and a decline in the daily number of people being boosted, Ms Throup said: “We’ve just been through two weekends of bank holiday and I think that’s quite clear that numbers will change as we move forward.”

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