THE NHS will move to alert level 4 from midnight as the coronavirus pandemic becomes worse than the first peak, an NHS chief has warned.
Sir Simon Stevens today said that the NHS is facing a "serious situation" over the coming winter months.
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The chief executive of the health service said across England, hospitals are filling up with "desperately sick" Covid patients.
Sir Simon warned the NHS is facing a situation that is close to be worse than the first peak.
Speaking this morning at an NHS England and NHS Improvement press conference, he revealed that the level would be moved from three to four – the highest alert level.
Level 3 means that the Covid virus is in general circulation, and level 4 means that transmission is high or rising exponentially.
He said: "The level had to be that at the end of January and at the back end of June.
"It's not a situation anyone wants to be in", he added.
Also speaking a the conference national medical director of NHS England, Stephen Powis said hospitals are already at the point where they are "very busy and we are still in autumn".
Prof Powis was appearing alongside Sir Simon and Dr Alison Pittard,consultant in intensive care medicine and Dean, faculty of intensive care medicine NHS chief executive.
He said: "It is not the case that hospitals are quiet – winter is coming.
"What I hear from NHS staff is anxiety going into winter, they know how hard they had to work in the first peak and there is a determination to get the job done.
"They get out of bed to treat people and help them recover. This won’t be a normal winter unless we all assist."
Highlighting new lockdown measures that are set to be enforced this wee he added that things will continue to get worse unless "we act and all do what we are asked to".
He added: "I believe the British people understand the need to do it. As we get into winter our staff will be busier.
"Unless we can control and bend, the curve, it will move to surgical capacity and we will have to postpone routine surgeries."
Earlier today Sir Simon told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there are currently 11,000 coronavirus patients in hospitals in England – equating to 22 hospitals' worth of Covid patients.
Sir Simon said that there had been a "very substantial" increase in Covid-19 admissions in October.
The NHS chief said the service will soon be able to "press go" on routine testing for all asymptomatic NHS staff and said that this is being rolled out in areas of the country with high case numbers.
With more NHS testing, the hope is that less people will end up in hospital and that the NHS will be able to continue to run smoothly.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today Programme he said that at the beginning of September there had been just under 500 Covid patients in hospitals.
Referring to slides shown to the general public by scientific advisers of Saturday evening, he said the "facts speak for themselves".
"We began early September with under 500 coronavirus patients in hospitals, by the beginning of October that had become 2,000, and as of today that is just under 11,000.
"So put another way and we’ve got 22 hospitals worth of coronavirus patients across England and indeed even since Saturday when the Prime Minister gave his press conference, we have filled another two hospitals full of severely ill coronavirus patients."
'Face the reality'
He said that the "reality" of the situation is that the NHS has more coronavirus inpatients in hospital and in intensive care now, than during the first peak in April.
Sir Simon added: "These are desperately sick patients in hospitals.
"We are adding as much capacity as we can in anticipation of not only the coronavirus but the extra winter pressures that always come along at this time of year.
"The fact that the reason we want to try and minimise the number of coronavirus infections in patients is not only because of the excess death rate that implies but because of the knock on effect it has for other services, routine operations and cancer care.
"If we want to preserve those other services so that the health service can continue to help the full rage of patients – we need to do everything we can together to keep the infection rate down of the coronavirus."
He added that modelling from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) shows that capacity will only continue to be stretched.
The NHS chief said the health service did not run out of critical care capacity during the first wave – and added he hoped that would be the case over winter.
He added: "We fully expect that will continue to be the case, and indeed the action Parliament is considering today will mean not only that, but should mean that we will not need to embark on a national deferral of routine operations across the country and instead will continue with targeted local decisions based on the particular pressures individual hospitals and geographies are facing."
Sir Simon added that the whole of Europe is seeing the same issue with capacity and that countries such as France, Germany and Spain are all facing issues.
He said the NHS has "prepared carefully" for the second peak and claimed that the service wanted to "minimise the impact of the virus.
"First we have developed new treatments, we have kitted out hospitals with extra facilities and equipment, have 159 A&E departments that are getting upgrades so they can split their coronavirus patients from the rest.
""We are expanding critical care, we have got more testing, the government have stockpiled PPE for us and we have used Summer and Autumn to make progress in catching up with the other care that was disrupted such as waiting list operations and cancer treatments.
"If you get coronavirus spiralling out of control as was happening in March and April, those are the services that get disrupted – that’s what we want to try and minimise to the greatest extent we can."
While beds across the NHS have seen a marked increase of Covid patients, Sir Simon said the NHS did not run out of capacity during the first wave and "remained available to everyone who would benefit from it".
He said the country would likely go forward with localised measures based on the pressures at individual hospitals.
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