BMA demands fresh COVID-19 plan as heatwave adds to pressure on NHS

The BMA has demanded a long-term living with COVID-19 strategy from the government as the NHS creaks under the twin pressures of a surge in coronavirus infections and a summer heatwave.

Thermometer
Heatwave adding to COVID-19 pressure (Photo: Simple Images/Getty Images)

Weekly COVID-19 infections UK-wide rose from 2.7m to nearly 3.5m people according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) while the UK health and security agency has issued a national warning over illness and deaths during the heatwave.

BMA chair Professor Philip Banfield said the NHS faced a ‘gargantuan task’ to tackle the backlog of care - with more than 6.5m patients on waiting lists - but could not make inroads without keeping COVID-19 cases at low levels.

‘With ONS data showing infection rates rising across the UK, and with possible future waves on the horizon, the government must demonstrate that it has a reliable long-term plan for dealing with COVID-19,’ Professor Banfield said.

Staff shortage

He added: ‘Staffing deficits are dangerously curtailing the NHS’s ability to tackle the backlog. The government must respond by putting in place a credible long-term plan to increase staffing across the board, backed by independent workforce assessments.’

The latest COVID-19 wave has seen GP practices hit by absences and struggling to cope with routine work, with one LMC issuing a county-wide red alert over pressure in general practice.

But the problems look set to be exacerbated by the heatwave, with one integrated care system declaring an OPEL level 4 alert - indicating escalating pressure on services that has undermined provision of comprehensive care, and increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised.

Leeds Health and Care Partnership has warned that the rapid rise in prevalence of COVID-19 circulating in the community and the hot weather had contributed to rising demand for healthcare services across the city.

Rising demand

Leeds LMC warned: 'To have this situation arising in the summer is very concerning and is not only a clear sign that the pandemic is far from over but also evidence of the historic lack of investment across the NHS, not least general practice, and social care.'

The LMC highlighted advice to practices to 'avoid sending people directly to very busy emergency departments' and to refer instead to virtual wards and use a 'primary care advice line' system.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS would work closely with other public health services to prepare for a surge in demand for heat-related admissions.

‘With temperatures soaring, and a level 4 heat warning being called for the first time ever, the pressure on the NHS will be extreme over the coming days with severe bed shortages, ambulance services severely stretched and several health systems around the country having to declare critical incidents,’ he said.

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