The overburdened NHS is again being driven to the brink of disaster by the Government’s chaotic handling of Covid-19.
From doctors to union leaders, the warning is that the service is at breaking point as it fights to keep coronavirus deaths down.
And now it is facing a triple crisis.
Today we reveal how:
- GPs fear they are ill-equipped and too stressed to cope with a vaccine rollout
- Frontline NHS staff are still being denied PPE despite a stockpile.
- A worrying 30,000 cancer patients have missed out on treatment, with the latest figures showing up to two million ops cancelled.
British Medical Association chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned: “We want to be able to provide immunisations – but we’ll need to prioritise or it’ll end in burnout.
“We need a reduction of bureaucracy and more support. GP practices have had a really tough time and can’t be in two places at once.”
He and other experts think vaccinating millions against coronavirus at seven-day-a-week clinics will pile huge pressures on the NHS, particularly GPs.
The rollout is more vital than ever because of the Government’s flop test and trace system.
Last month it emerged more than 15,000 positive Covid cases were not uploaded with up to 48,000 contacts not traced.
Now GPs are expected to play the lead role in what Health Secretary Matt Hancock called a “mammoth logistical operation”.
He has promised the NHS will be ready to roll out the vaccine from December 1 – despite warnings the GP system is not prepared or suitable for mass immunisations.
There are 54,000 GPs in the UK, each of them seeing an average 41 patients a day.
Now they will have to deal with 5,000 daily vaccinations as maker Pfizer gets set to deliver the drug to 1,500 centres across the country.
Each patient needs two doses around three weeks apart, at a cost of £1.6 billion for our 66.7 million population. The Government has ordered 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate up to 20 million people.
Earlier this week, Mr Hancock said the vaccine will be delivered through care homes, GPs and pharmacists, as well as special centres in venues such as sports halls.
He said: “We will work across the NHS with armed forces support seven days a week, over weekends, bank holidays, to get this rolled out as quickly as possible. I’m sure the NHS will rise to this challenge.”
But frontline GPs fear they won’t be able to cope. A BMA survey reveals nearly half say their mental health is worse now than before the start of the pandemic, with 73% reporting anxiety about working through winter.
One in Bradford, West Yorks, told us: “It will be very difficult to roll this out on top of our usual workload. I’m concerned colleagues will buckle under the pressure.”
And while GPs scramble to prepare for the vaccine, thousands of NHS staff are still being denied Covid protection – despite replenished stocks.
Angry unions say frontline medics including
physiotherapists, dieticians and speech therapists, are not all being given the right PPE for close contact procedures such as chest physiotherapy, introducing feeding tubes, and assessing whether a patient can swallow safely – because official guidance means not all health workers get the same level of protection, with possible disastrous consequences.
National Unison officer Alan Lofthouse said: “Getting up close to patients is unavoidable for NHS staff performing specialist procedures. It’s vital they have the right PPE, and plenty of it.”
Unite’s Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added: “We want Public Health England to change its guidance since the Government has said there is not meant to be a PPE shortage. Our members feel at risk.”
Amid this is a growing cancer crisis to tackle.
Alarming new figures reveal more than 30,000 fewer cancer patients started treatment in the six months to September than during the same period last year.
Estimates suggest three million people are waiting for cancer checks and that 1,600 cases of cancer are being left undiagnosed every month.
Breast Cancer Now’s Mia Rosenblatt warned the Government and NHS England “must set out how the influx in demand for imaging and diagnostics will be met so breast cancer services can safely continue”.
An NHS spokesperson said last night: “Cancer services are back at pre-pandemic levels and GP appointments are running ahead of this time last year. GPs will work alongside other healthcare professionals with access to volunteers to deliver a vaccine.”