Covid: Sajid Javid says NHS is set for ‘particularly tough’ winter as Labour calls for vaccine programme ‘fix’

Downing Street has insisted ministers do not need to resort to Plan B of the winter plan yet, despite rising coronavirus hospital admissions and death rates

The NHS is set for a “particularly tough” winter and there are “shortages” of staff to respond to 999 and 111 calls, the Health Secretary has admitted.

Sajid Javid said there is “huge pressure” on the health service in England.

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Labour has called on him to “ditch the complacency” and “fix” the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • Mr Javid insisted a winter plan developed with NHS officials will be unveiled in the next couple of weeks before he defended the jab rollout, amid concerns over a lack of uptake from youngsters.
  • At an earlier Health Select Committee hearing, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had heard anecdotal reports of “very long periods of time being wasted for 999 calls to be picked up, sometimes as long as 10 minutes, which obviously if someone’s having a cardiac arrest is far too long”.
  • NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said there had been a “very significant increase in demand” and part of the answer was “the recruitment and training of additional call handlers to respond to that increase in demand”. Pressed on the issue, she said “we do need to have more capacity in that call handling part of the process”.
  • She added that the NHS is in for a “tough winter” and a rise in Covid patients would have an effect on how much other, planned care could be carried out.
  • Elsewhere in the Commons, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth highlighted lengthy waits for patients trying to secure a hospital bed and examples of ambulances backed up outside hospitals.

What’s been said

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hunt raised warnings about pressures in emergency care and a shortage of 999 call handlers.

Mr Javid replied: “There are shortages across the NHS – (Mr Hunt) has mentioned 999 callers, there’s a huge pressure at the moment on 111 calls as well and emergency care generally, including ambulance services.

“There’s a significant amount of support that has been put in, especially over the last few months, especially additional funding and we are setting out in a detailed plan coming shortly – in the next couple of weeks – with the NHS exactly what more we will be doing.”

Mr Javid defended the UK’s vaccination programme as “one of the most successful in the world”, adding: “It has prevented 24 million infections, it’s prevented some 230,000 people from being hospitalised and 130,000 lives have been saved.

“I don’t call that a failure, I call it a success.”

Background

Downing Street acknowledged coronavirus hospital admissions and death rates are rising along with infections but insisted ministers do not need to resort to Plan B of the winter plan yet.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said “some groups” are coming forward “slightly more slowly” for their third jabs than they did for their previous shots.

Asked if the Cabinet discussed rolling out Plan B of the plan to control the virus this autumn and winter, the spokesman said: “No… It remains the case we would only look to use that if the pressure on the NHS was looking to become unsustainable.”

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