Winter Pressures and the potential of a Second Lockdown
With the prospect of another peak in COVID-19 looming on our autumn/winter horizon, how will NHS staff cope with yet another pandemic and intense winter pressures that medical practitioners may face?
Not only that, winter brings on a variety of other seasonal illnesses such as influenza, RSV/bronchiolitis, strep throat and tonsillitis. Whilst the bulk of these are not as dangerous as COVID-19, in certain cases hospitalisation becomes essential, particularly for the older generation, vulnerable adults, or the very young.
Whilst everyone was anticipating getting back to the ‘new normal’, this is far from the case. With the potential of a second lockdown, the NHS will be making background preparations for the arrival of a second wave of the virus, as well as the added winter pressures.
GP surgeries will likely have to increase their remote consultations once again, even though some have already started seeing patients face to face. The Royal College of General Practitioners recently wrote ‘it is sensible to look at potential worst-case scenarios, now’. Preparation and plans need to be put in place, that is certain. Referrals to NHS hospitals to provide patient care, will also lengthen the waiting list that GPs expect for non-urgent treatment or operations, due to both the Coronavirus and the additional winter pressures.
As far as GP surgeries and eligible pharmacies, the NHS strongly recommends that the flu vaccine is readily available to vulnerable patients to prevent potential hospitalisation in severe cases. The vaccines recommended for 2020/2021 winter season are clearly laid out by the World Health Organisation
What are the main challenges likely to be faced?
There are a multitude of challenges, unfortunately. The NHS is stretched to the limit during a ‘normal’ winter period, and in the winter of 2017/2018, bed capacity was at 95% and that is without an impact such as COVID-19. Respiratory cases and deaths pushed both the NHS and social care systems to the limit. With the possible advent of COVID-19 on top of this, the huge backlog of care, operational facilities and lack of staffing will increase significantly.
How are the NHS preparing for a potential winter crisis?
With the exceptional situation the UK found themselves in back in January and still ongoing, lessons have been learned the hard way. The NHS were caught on the back foot to a certain extent and nobody had experienced a pandemic like this for many years. This time, however, the realisation that the disruption the first wave caused will hopefully be mitigated by:
– Continuance of the public information campaigns via all media channels.
– Up to date monitoring and managing the extent of the virus should there be a second surge.
– Test and trace facilities to be optimised to full capacity.
– Ensuring that all communication channels between national and local NHS services are tip top and expedient.
– Adequate PPE equipment is available for both patients and staff to protect the vulnerable.
– Bed space for both virus patients and general patients needing treatment, with COVID-19 and COVID-19 free-zones in operation.
– NHS recommendations to GP surgeries to vaccinate all those patients at risk and key workers to alleviate possible seasonal flu epidemic.
What more could be done to ease the winter pressures?
The Academy of Medical Sciences are very much in alignment with the NHS for more measures to prevent overloading of services during the winter months.
Bearing in mind the influx of COVID patients from care homes, there is a need to minimise the impact in this area. Suggestions are made in terms of prevention and control methods to minimise infections within these environments.
There is also a school of thought in terms of release from hospital. Patients returning to social care or the community should be tested on release or asked to self-isolate or be quarantined for the acceptable period of 14 days. The Academy are also looking for ‘post-COVID care’ for those that have ongoing mental or physical illness caused by the virus. There is an increasing amount of aftermath cases that are currently not being treated, that if left alone, could again cause hospitalisation.
All in all, there is still much work to be done, in planning and preparation, with an ever-decreasing amount of time to be ready, should another wave occur.
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