Avoid getting ill 'unnecessarily,' say health chiefs as NHS is gripped by 'major crisis'

3 January 2023, 11:26 | Updated: 3 January 2023, 11:31

People have been urged to get vaccinated against Covid and the flu
People have been urged to get vaccinated against Covid and the flu. Picture: Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Health chiefs have urged the public to 'avoid unnecessary illness' as the NHS is in the midst of a major crisis.

The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) has also asked the public to wear masks outside to stop the spread of viruses this winter, including Covid, flu and scarlet fever.

It comes as more than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents over the festive period.

"There's no doubt the situation is very difficult - that's why many trusts have declared critical incidents," NHS Confederation Chief Executive Matthew Taylor told the BBC.

"We are not able to provide the level of service we want to provide. It's important to say that the NHS is there for you if you need it, but it's also important to be clear with the public about the situation we're in and the ways in which the public can help.

"I welcome this new advice about people wearing masks and not going out if they're ill, keeping children off school, because we need to do everything we can to avoid unnecessary illness.

"The simple reality here is that the health service is caught between the fact that it has limited capacity, particularly when it comes to workforce - 130,000 vacancies - and a level of demand that it is difficult to meet in ordinary times.

"When you add in flu and Covid, which doesn't just afford a course that affects patients but also means any staff are off ill, that's when you get to this very difficult situation we're in."

Read More: 'Wear masks while out and about', health bosses tell sick Brits, as NHS creaks amid wave of Covid and flu

Read More: NHS in ‘complete state of crisis’ and people ‘resort to DIY treatment as they can’t see GPs’

Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at the UKHSA, added that adults should try not to go out when they are unwell where possible, and avoid visiting vulnerable people unless it is urgent.

She said: "Adults should...try to stay home when unwell and if you do have to go out, wear a face covering. When unwell don’t visit healthcare settings or visit vulnerable people unless urgent.

"Remember that flu vaccination is still available for all eligible groups and is the best protection against the virus. We have seen good uptake in older age groups but vaccination among young children remains low.

"Flu can be very unpleasant and in some cases can lead to more serious illness. Getting your child vaccinated protects them and others they come into contact with, and it’s still not too late."

Nick Ferrari sums up his experience of A&E

Pressures affecting the NHS have already become "intolerable" for the health service, according to the former head of the Royal College of Nursing. Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Dr Peter Carter said: "It is a terrible set of circumstances that we find ourselves in and we know that this is the result of years of underinvestment, particularly in social care."

He added: "Now, because of winter, because of flu, because of Covid and all sorts of other problems, you've now got a major crisis.The conversation comes amid warnings that the deaths of up to 500 people each week could be caused by delays in emergency care.

"Back in August, an 87-year-old man in Cornwall spent 15 hours lying in his garden and his family put a makeshift shelter up because they couldn't get an ambulance.

"We have a crisis and there's no good people trying to dilute it."Right now, things are intolerable and I feel for patients, but I also feel for the staff."

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