Hospital bosses are ‘extremely concerned’ as the backlog of patients awaiting treatment soars

At least 24 NHS trusts in England have declared a ‘critical incident’ due to pressures caused by the Omicron variant, as rising Covid cases create a staffing shortage and hamper efforts to clear a patient backlog of 5.8 million.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Thursday that a balance was being sought between public restrictions and avoiding a situation where hospitals are “overrun” by the new wave of Covid cases. A critical incident is declared when an NHS trust reaches a point at which priority services might be under threat.

The “very real” pressure the health service is under is caused by an increase in hospitalizations at the same time as a spike in staff having to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus, or coming into contact with a Covid-positive person.

Shapps argued that it’s “not entirely unusual” for hospitals to “go critical” during the winter, but he said the system is under overwhelming pressure this time for multiple reasons.

The concerns about provisions of priority services come as it is revealed that the backlog of patients waiting for planned treatments in England has reached 5.8 million, and both 999 calls and A&E waiting times have hit record highs.

UK care sector declares ‘red’ alert amid Covid staffing shortage

In a new report, the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee in the House of Commons said the NHS is facing an “unquantifiable” challenge as it tries to clear the backlog and cope with the pandemic. The report details the “catastrophic impact” on patients waiting for care and warns staff could quit if they don’t see a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

In a call to the government on Wednesday, the NHS Confederation, which represents the whole healthcare system, warned that English patients face a worsening quality of care unless the government takes immediate action to address staffing issues.

Speaking to the Guardian, NHS Confederation Chief Executive Matthew Taylor claimed hospital bosses are “extremely concerned” about the growing problem of the ratio of staff to patients, forcing hospitals to allocate clinical tasks in a way that is “not normally” best practice.

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