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Health Minister Doesn’t Know How Many Hospitals Have Declared Critical Incidents Due To Covid

At least six NHS trusts have declared critical incidents due to the increased number of Covid-19 patients (Alamy)

3 min read

A health minister has said there is uncertainty over how many NHS trusts have declared critical incidents due to fast-moving increases in Covid patients.

Maggie Throup said it would be “wrong of me to actually say a number” because there are more hospitals announcing they are under strain all the time.

But she insisted the government “definitely does” have a handle on the situation, and that they will hold meetings today with NHS England and provide an update shortly afterwards. 

As of last night at least six NHS trusts had declared “critical incidents”, which means hospital leaders are concerned they may not be able to provide priority services. 

“In many parts of the health service, we are currently in a state of crisis,” Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation wrote in a blog post on Monday night. 

Throup, who is the minister for vaccines and public health, told Sky News the situation in hospitals is “fast moving” as the huge increase in coronavirus cases due to the Omicron variant is causing an uptick in patient admissions.

“It would be wrong of me to actually say a number, because quite shortly there could be another one or another trust could actually say 'no, we're back on track now and we're okay' and it's a mechanism that's been put in place in the past,” she said

There has been some concern that critical incidents could partly be the result of mass absences of staff with Covid, but Throup suggested Trusts were able to deal with crises swiftly where that was the case. 

"Sometimes it's just a matter of hours that the critical incident is in place for, other times it's longer, but it's actually reaching out to the wider NHS to say we have got a problem in this particular area," she explained. 

"It can be staff shortages, it could be other reasons."

It is expected that cases could surge to around 200,000 this week in the wake of New Year's Eve and the return of schools, forcing many more into isolation. 

Throup said she was "not sure" how many people were currently in self-isolation, but agreed that it was likely a lot of people would have caught the highly transmissible Omicron variant over Christmas. 

"What is good news, it doesn't seem to be resulting in severe diseases as some of the other variants did," she added. 

Throup acknowledged that the number of people in isolation was likely to be higher than recorded, because "not everybody declares that they're self-isolating" but reiterated the importance of isolating after testing positive. 

The minister said she believed that the government’s “Plan B” measures for tackling Covid-19 this winter were working, despite more than 1.1million positive cases in the past seven days, and a 50% rise in hospitalisations.

Throup said there will be a Cabinet meeting today to discus the latest data, but said she did not "see any reason why we need to change" the current restrictions. 

Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London this morning said he was "cautiously optimistic" Covid cases are beginning to plateau in the capital, the region “which has been driving the Omicron epidemic”.

He told the BBC Today programme that given the high numbers of infections in recent weeks “it can't sustain those numbers forever”, so case numbers will start to come down in London in the next week and then other parts of the UK after that.

"Whether they then drop precipitously, or we see a pattern a bit like we saw with Delta back in July – of an initial drop and then quite a high plateau – remains to be seen, it's just too difficult to interpret current mixing trends and what the effect of open schools again will be,” Professor Ferguson added.

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