Professor Neil Mortensen, who heads up the Royal College of Surgeons of England, has described the continued disorder on hospitals and medical facilities due to the spread of the virus. He said: “Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to cause major disruption in the NHS, with high staff absences in recent weeks.”
It follows a warning from Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, who said last month the NHS was under “significant” pressure from a rise in infections, driven by the BA.2 Omicron variant.
Professor Stephen Griffin, guest member of the SAGE government advisory committee, also told Express.co.uk in March the BA.2 variant was “causing havoc” in the UK, where “huge swathes of our population [are] vulnerable to infection”.
He then ominously warned that, without some form of action, “we’re going to see a really damaging wave of this virus as BA.2 takes hold”.
The latest ONS data shows that around one in 13 people in England and Wales currently have Covid.
Recent statistics show over 28,000 healthcare workers do not turn up to work each day due to Covid, as hospital beds are filled with more than 20,000 patients who have contracted the disease.
In turn, this means far less space is available for patients trying to access planned operations.
Professor Mortensen told the Guardian: “We have heard that planned surgery is being cancelled again in different parts of the country due to staff being off sick with the virus.
“This is understandably frustrating for surgical teams who want to help their patients by getting planned surgery up and running again.
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The Prime Minister hailed “the biggest catch-up programme in the history of the health service” which he said was backed by “unprecedented funding”.
He added: “These measures will make sure patients receive the right care, in the right place at the right time as we bust the COVID backlogs and recover from the pandemic.”
But health officials have warned recovery from the pandemic is a long way off, as in the very same month, all COVID-19 restrictions in England were taken away.
A “triple Covid-related whammy” has prevented any meaningful work on the waiting times after the peak of the Omicron wave, combing staff absences, social-care related delays and the sheer volume of people presenting to hospitals with Covid.
Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, attributed this to why “the NHS hasn’t been able consistently to hit top speed on backlog recovery, as we were hoping to, coming out of winter”.
He made the caveat that some NHS trusts were carrying out more elective operations than prior to the pandemic, “but others, with higher Covid impacts, are some way behind that”.
He added: “This will impact on the NHS’s ability to meet the targets we agreed.”
An unnamed hospital executive has also commented: “These targets are not realistic at all because of staff shortages, which existed before Covid and are being compounded by the number of people still reporting sick, and also staff burnout.”
The council chair of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, denounced the Government as “burying its head in the sand to the immediate threat of the virus to our healthcare services”.
NHS England is expected to publish updated figures on waiting times on Thursday.