Pressure on NHS will be 'considerable' but Plan B measures are all we need, PM says

3 January 2022, 13:24 | Updated: 3 January 2022, 18:33

Boris Johnson warned of weeks of pressure on the NHS
Boris Johnson warned of weeks of pressure on the NHS. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Pressure on the NHS is going to be "considerable" in the coming weeks, Boris Johnson has warned.

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But the Prime Minister made no suggestion he wants to introduce new restrictions, instead asking people to stick to Plan B measures while describing the fast spreading Omicron variant as "plainly milder".

He said more people need to get their booster jabs to protect against hospitalisation and serious illness.

It comes as Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned parts of the health service are in "crisis" due to high levels of demand and staff absences.

One NHS trust, United Lincolnshire Hospitals, has declared a "critical incident" with "extreme and unprecedented" staff shortages resulting in "compromised care".

The Government said 157,758 more Covid-19 cases were recorded in England and Scotland on Monday, while a further 42 people have died in England within 28 days of testing positive.

Mr Taylor suggested more trusts could declare critical incidents, with some hospitals currently asking staff to give up their rest days so that core services can be maintained. Visitors have also been banned in some hospitals to prevent infection spreading, he added.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Johnson said "there's no question Omicron continues to surge through the country" and he added: "I think we've got to recognise that the pressure on our NHS, on our hospitals, is going to be considerable in the course of the next couple of weeks, and maybe more."

He insisted his Government would "make sure that we look after our NHS any way that we can" as fears grow about how many staff will be absent because of coronavirus.

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Workplaces have been asked to brace themselves for seeing up to a quarter of their staff absent in worst case scenarios.

Figures show on Boxing Day more than 24,000 people in acute NHS trusts were off work due to Covid isolation or illness, double the 12,000 who were off on December 12.

"I appreciate the pressures that our hospitals are under, I think it's vital that we make sure that we help them by trying to contain the pandemic in the ways that I've set out.

"So do all the things that I've said, make sure we follow a Plan B, get boosted but also help the NHS with their staffing requirements, and we're looking at what we can do to move people into those areas that are particularly badly affected.

"Don't forget that... no matter how incredibly transmissible Omicron is - and there's no question it really spreads very, very fast - it is different from previous variants.

"And it does seem pretty conclusively to be less severe than Delta or Alpha, and it is putting fewer people into ICU, and sadly the people who are getting into ICU are the people who aren't boosted, so get boosted."

His comments follow Cabinet Secretary Steve Barclay's comment that the Government does not believe the data indicates that more restrictions are needed.

Plan B measures are to be reviewed on Wednesday. The package sees the Government ask workers to do their jobs from home while people are compelled to wear a mask in most public indoor settings and on public transport.

However, Mr Johnson did not indicate whether other measures would be eased, either.

When asked if he would follow parts of the US in cutting the isolation period to five days, he said he would look at "infectivity periods" but he worried about allowing potentially infectious people out and back into their workplaces.