Covid to become ‘like common cold’ says NHS Providers Chief, as he warns against misinterpreting NHS data

Chris Hopson told BBC Breakfast that NHS staff shortages are more threatening to health service than patients with Covid

NHS Providers Chief Executive Chris Hopson has told how Covid cases are rising and hospitalisation numbers have increased, but there should be caution when interpreting data.

Hopson told BBC Breakfast that there may be a need to consider whether the public should be able to go about their normal lives, despite testing positive for the virus.

However, he stopped short of agreeing with a University of East Anglia professor, that NHS staff should be able to attend work while carrying the virus.

‘Just another common cold’

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on 28 December, he said: “Covid is only one virus of a family of coronaviruses, and the other coronaviruses throw off new variants typically every year or so, and that’s almost certainly what’s going to happen with Covid – it will become effectively just another cause of the common cold.

“We’re not going to be doing daily reporting on cases of the different causes of the common cold going forward, of which Covid is one.

He added that NHS staff shortages were posing more of a threat to health care provision than patients with Covid, as isolation periods and the spread of Omicron meant many staff were required to stay at home.

“We’re now seeing a significant increase in the level of staff absences, and quite a few of our chief executives are saying that they think that that’s probably going to be a bigger problem and a bigger challenge for them than necessarily the number of people coming in who need treatment because of Covid,” he said.

“So what we’re seeing is in some hospitals, we’re now having to redeploy staff to fill the gaps that are being left in critical and essential services.”

‘Careful not to over interpret data’

But, when discussing whether staff should be able to attend work while still testing positive for Covid, he dismissed the argument as nonsensical.

Earlier on BBC Breakfast, Professor of Medicine at East Anglia Paul Hunter said people “who are positive with Covid go about their normal lives” when asked about NHS staff shortages and the response to this crisis.

Prof Hunter added: “If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later. Maybe not quite just yet.”

But Chris Hopson responded to this suggestion, saying “That clearly won’t apply and shouldn’t apply to people who work inside the NHS, and it would seem to me to be very foolish to suggest that.”

However, he did add: “As for the wider society, clearly that is something that we need to look at.”

And, as the UK government decided there would be no additional restrictions in England despite rising numbers of hospitalisations, Hopson said: “we just need to be careful about over interpreting the data.”

He told BBC Breakfast there had been a 27% increase in the number of hospital admissions nationally over the past week, and a 45% increase in London.

He explained: “In the previous peaks, we’ve had some very seriously ill older people who’ve got really significant respiratory problems and… they had to go into critical care.

“The difference this time is we’ve got quite a few patients who are coming in – they might have fallen off their bike and knocked their head or broken their leg – and what’s happening is they’ve got no symptoms but when they arrive, they’re actually testing positive for Covid.

“Interestingly, the statistics that we use don’t actually distinguish between those two.”