Even though we are well past the first impactful spike of COVID-19, we are now becoming increasingly likely to be at risk for a second deadly wave that may place the NHS under the similar strains it initially faced in March.
As the number of new daily cases continues to rise to almost 14,000 and with the death toll climbing to around 50 per day, it is only confirming fears that we may hit a second deadly wave that will coincide with the already hectic winter flu period. Plans have begun to be put into place to try and decrease the number of potential new admissions to protect staff from dealing with simultaneous COVID and non-emergency situations, including efforts to ensure all members of staff working within the care industry have received their flu vaccine to eliminate symptoms and provide a further differentiation between COVID and seasonal diseases. These efforts are also being persuaded onto the general public, specifically those most at risk from winter illnesses and those who are more susceptible to common colds or falls due to changing weather conditions.
Further plans are being promised by the Government regarding a winter fund to several at risk hospitals around the UK in a bid to remain on top of the PPE issues and staff stress as it arises. These include potential new wards with a higher number of beds, an increase in diagnosis services, direct contact facilities for local GPs, additional nurses to aid patient transportation around wards, and further admin to process discharging patients in order to free up beds and alleviate any potential spread caused by continuing to care for patients well after they have been treated. There have also been requests regarding specialist staff that can provide exclusive care and not have to move around several wards and step in for low staff numbers. On top of this, the Government have planned to invest in additional campaigns that speak directly to the general public and encourage them to use their best interests concerning their physical health, getting the essential vaccines and jabs to alleviate flu symptoms, upkeep their therapy services and continue to seek support beyond the confines of hospital walls.
An additional 30 billion worth of PPE items have been planned by the Government alongside a guaranteed four month stockpile that should prevent the shortages faced within the initial wave and allow staff to be constantly protected and at low risk when dealing with a multitude of complex and non-emergency patients. The UK are also trialling ways to increase NHS essentials within the bounds of the country, attempting to increase the current PPE production levels in England and decrease our reliance on shipping requirements to ensure we have the correct number of suitable supplies as and when we need them. This comes on the heels of the first peak wave where the assisted products flown over from our neighbouring countries didn’t match the needed amount and many were unfit for use, in terms of being ill-fitting or instantaneously breaking, placing an unneeded stress on many workers to use makeshift PPE or none at all. By manufacturing these valuable resources within the UK, we have a higher chance of remaining prepared in the wake of a secondary wave and can stockpile this equipment ourselves, ready for both public and staff consumption, hopefully avoiding any more healthcare worker deaths by having the correct procedures and equipment readily in place and avoid any theft caused by panic and hysteria.
To further alleviate additional pressures, patients and relatives are being encouraged to care for their sick relatives during this winter season, carrying out the basic services that would otherwise be provided by hospital staff in a bid to keep beds free for patients that may require these more. Several members of the public have expressed concern towards the potential disruption to regular routines if they must provide this care themselves, with many placing blames on past COVID relative deaths due to staff entering homes without proper PPE. This encouragement to isolate and withhold symptoms from entering the hospital confines will have to become the new normal as the NHS continues to battle its backlog of patients from the first wave and prevent delays being prolonged into a secondary break.
With the first outbreak, the NHS shut its doors regarding ‘normal’ and non-emergency care to try and care for its more at-risk patients, effectively becoming a ‘COVID-only’ service and leaving many patients stranded by their treatment and therapy services. This created a mass backlog and resulted in one million fewer patients receiving the essential surgery and care they needed at the beginning of the pandemic. This also meant 40,000 patients could not start their valued cancer treatment and only lead to an influx in deaths and life-threatening developments as these patients were discharged to focus on those specifically with coronavirus symptoms. It has been estimated that this will have a domino effect and cause between 7,000 and 35,000 deaths this winter due to how this process was initially handled. This unavailable care also developed into widespread concern and reluctancy to re-enter the hospital to receive treatment once this became available as patients simply did not want to put their health more at risk if this could be avoided. These risks have since been massively reduced as staff become contained to singular wards and always wear the essential PPE, but initially meant that even healthy individuals that were receiving care would catch symptoms within the hospital confines and die unnecessarily from the virus. The result of this has meant that the NHS plans to deal with 90% of these planned care cases during October and reduce the backlog in preparation for the influx of new patients.
We are at an essential point in time now where decisions must be made in order to best protect our NHS staff and patients from reliving the mistakes caused by the first wave. It is estimated around 120,000 could die of COVID this winter and potentially overwhelm the NHS once again if this is dealt with in an improper manner or coincides with the spike in flu and seasonal deaths. By not implementing mass closure tactics and instead facing the challenges head on, care can still be given and patients will still be able to access non-emergency care, testing, appointments and necessary treatments without being effectively trapped in their homes to deteriorate and create inevitable hospital admissions. If the NHS are able to get on top of their current backlog and resume their essential surgeries and common issues such as bone and joint replacements simultaneously alongside COVID wards and minimise merging risks, it will keep spread to a minimum and allow at risk patients to fix their physical issues without fear of being contaminated with the virus.
By finding this new normal and attempting to keep the infection rate at a minimum, it will mean our NHS can work without being unnecessarily overwhelmed with non-essential admissions and instead work on vaccines and essential research to keep us all safe in the long run. The guidelines in place must be abided as the restrictions act in the best interests to stop the strain on our care services and alleviate strain from our frontline workers. If we continue to care for those we can and ensure we maintain our own treatments for both physical and mental health, it will allow beds to remain free and persuade investment for more intensive units in-case the situation worsens. We need to invest in our carers and those that put us before themselves, working to relieve the stress on an already pressurised industry and continue to expand on the 5 million tests, checks and treatments from the first wave to prepare for the winter season.