Covid hospital admissions continue to rise as NHS falls under ‘unsustainable’ pressure

The number of people hospitalised by Covid soared again last night as revellers across England headed out on to the streets to enjoy New Year’s Eve.

The latest NHS figures show there were 12,395 Covid patients in hospitals across England on Friday, an increase of 73 per cent since Christmas Day and the highest tally since February, while 2.3 million were infected with the virus last week.

Despite the substantial rise, Boris Johnson insisted that the country was in an “incomparably better” place than a year ago as he urged people to go and get a booster.

Having promised no new restrictions in the run up to New Year, he is now under pressure to make a decision one way or another on potential curbs to people’s freedoms.

The British Medical Association warned that the NHS was falling under “unsustainable” pressure after the number of Covid patients across hospitals in England increased ten-fold within one week.

Almost 5,000 people were hospitalised with the disease in the five days after Christmas, compared to an increase of 478 in the five days prior.

Roughly two thirds of patients testing positive are primarily being treated for Covid, according to NHS figures for up to 29 December.

And as forewarned by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, daily hospital admissions for the UK are now approaching the 2,000 mark.

Some 1,915 people were hospitalised with Covid on 27 December, while admissions in London, the epicentre of the Omicron wave, have passed 500.

Boris Johnson said this week there would be no new restrictions introduced in England “before the New Year”, but as 2021 ends he faces intense pressure to say whether he will go beyond the current Plan B curbs, which involve mandatory face-masks, Covid passes for mass-audience events and guidance to work from home.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland introduced tougher controls after Christmas, and many medics believe that waiting until after the New Year will mean any new restrictions in England will come too late to rein in the growing surge in Omicron hospital admissions in the first weeks of January.

“With Omicron now spreading so rapidly in the community – and daily cases nearing 200,000 – the pressure this is placing on the NHS, through staff absences and rising hospitalisations, is becoming unsustainable,” the BMA said on Friday morning.

“The BMA is clear that further public health measures are needed urgently to prevent the health service being completely overwhelmed, and today’s figures are further evidence why this is needed now.”

Downing Street said that there were currently no plans for meetings over the bank holiday weekend of the government’s Cobra emergency committee or the Covid-O committee which oversees pandemic response.

But a No 10 source said: “We look at the data multiple times a day and there are regular meetings. That monitoring will continue through the New Year weekend, we will be looking at the latest analysis of case numbers and hospitalisations and, as the prime minister has said, we will not hesitate to act if necessary.”

The source downplayed reports that the PM had been waiting for an informal threshold of 10,000 patients nationwide or 400 in hotspot London before stepping up action.

“We have never, ever had any trigger points or thresholds,” said the source. “There are so many variables within the figures. We look at a range of factors and the details behind them.”

NHS leaders have yet to formally call for new restrictions, however some hospital chiefs have said it would only be a matter of time before hospitals are inundated with patients.

One senior NHS source at a trust in the East of England said “we are waiting for the impact of the tsunami of infections.”

The rise in hospital admissions come as the NHS also faces record levels of absenteeism, with 24,632 workers off sick due to Covid, while ambulance services have reported increase pressures post-Christmas.

London Ambulance Service triggered its highest surge level on Thursday, while West Midlands Ambulance Service warned it had seen a 19 per cent increase in 999 calls between 24 and 28 December this year, compared to 2019.

Meanwhile, new analysis from the UK Health Security Agency has shown that unvaccinated people with Omicron are eight times more likely to end up in hospital than those who are boosted.

Those infected with the variant are also a third less likely to be admitted to hospital compared to Delta, the UKHSA said.

Alongside Cambridge University MRC Biostatistics unit, the agency analysed 528,176 Omicron cases and 573,012 Delta cases between November 22 and December 26.

For people who have received just two doses of AstraZeneca, there is no protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron from 20 weeks after the second dose, the research showed.

But the UKHSA said one dose of any vaccine was associated with a 35 per cent reduced risk of hospital admission among people infected with the variant.

Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said the analysis on Omicron was encouraging but warned that the NHS could still struggle given the country’s high infection rates, with cases now rising among the elderly.

“It remains too early to draw any definitive conclusions on hospital severity, and the increased transmissibility of Omicron and the rising cases in the over 60s population in England means it remains highly likely that there will be significant pressure on the NHS in coming weeks,” she said.

Separate data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that infections hit record levels in all parts of the UK in the run-up to Christmas.

An estimated 2.3 million people were infected in the seven days to 23 December, up from 1.4 million the previous week and the highest number since figures for the UK began in autumn 2020.

In London, one in 15 people had Covid-19 during this time frame – the highest proportion for any region in England.

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.