Hope of 'much more normal future' as Covid treatments improve, NHS chief says

26 January 2021, 14:09

Sir Simon Stevens said there was hope of a 'much more normal future'
Sir Simon Stevens said there was hope of a 'much more normal future'. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

There is hope of a "much more normal future", the head of NHS England has said, with coronavirus becoming "much more treatable" over the coming months while the vaccine is rolled out.

Sir Simon Stevens told MPs he hoped there would be a turn for the better over the next six to 18 months with a combination of the vaccination rollout and other treatments that are being developed.

"The first half of the year, vaccination is going to be crucial," he said.

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"I think a lot of us in the health service are increasingly hopeful that the second half of the year and beyond we will also see more therapeutics and more treatments for coronavirus."

Sir Simon said there were a number of potential new treatments in the pipeline "and I think it is possible that over the course of the next six to 18 months, coronavirus becomes a much more treatable disease with antivirals and other therapies, which alongside the vaccination programme holds out the hope of a return to a much more normal future."

He added it "would be great" if the Covid vaccine and flu vaccine were combined into a single jab, if not for next winter then future ones.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens. Picture: PA

Speaking to the Health and Social Care Committee, Sir Simon also said vaccines were being used as fast as they arrived in the NHS.

"We are at the moment pretty much using up each week's vaccine as we get it, as we receive it through the safety testing, the batch testing, distribution to the NHS then it gets sent out across the country," he said.

Asked about vaccine priority, he said teachers, police and people with learning disabilities will need to be considered for the next round of Covid-19 vaccinations.

He said: "Our current proposition that once we have offered a vaccination to everyone aged 70 and above, and the clinically extremely vulnerable, then the next group of people would be people in their 60s and 50s, but there will also be a legitimate discussion.... as to whether or not there are certain other groups who should receive that priority.

"People with learning disabilities and autism, certain key public service workers, teachers, the police, they will have to be factored in that post-February 15 prioritisation decision."

Sir Simon said just under 33,000 Covid patients are currently in hospitals across the country which was "very, very serious".

He added: "When you look at the critical care positions, again, we have got over 4,000 patients in critical care and about three-quarters of our critical care are there for Covid-related reasons."

He said vaccinating all over-65s will have a "big impact" on the pressure on hospital beds, but added about a quarter of hospital admissions for Covid are for people aged under 55, and about half of inpatient critical care bed days for coronavirus are patients under the age of 65.

But he said reducing the number of hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients was not "the only consideration" when deciding the vaccination priority list.

"Fundamentally, the most important thing is to get the overall infection rate down... this is principally about reducing the avoidable death rate," he added.

Earlier, Sir Simon said there will come a point where people are told they can come forward for a vaccination if they have not yet received one.

"As we move through each successive cohort there will come a moment when we will say 'if you haven't been contacted then please come forward yourselves'.

"Right now because we have been asked to move down the risk pyramid, the NHS is asking people to book an appointment so we're saying 'wait for us to contact you' rather than 'you phone your surgery' for example.

"But as we get to the end of each cohort we will then be saying very clearly 'if you fall into this category and you haven't been vaccinated, here's how you can come forward and be vaccinated'."