LIVE – Updated at 13:54
Latest updates: latest NHS England figures show that only 8,200 of 13,045 Covid hospital patients were being treated primarily for Covid.
Northamptonshire moves to major incident status due to Covid
A system-wide major incident has been declared in Northamptonshire by health, public and emergency service leaders because of the impact of coronavirus in the county, PA Media reports. The Northamptonshire Local Resilience Forum, which is made up of NHS organisations, local authorities, Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and Northamptonshire Police, issued the alert due to “rising demand on services and staffing levels”. Chair of the forum, chief fire officer Darren Dovey, said:
There is already exceptional working together between partners to help the county face up to this challenge. Declaring this incident is a necessary step to make sure we are able to share resources where necessary which is increasingly important as more staff need to self-isolate.
Yesterday Staffordshire also declared a major incident, for the same reason.
Labour accuses attorney general of playing ‘political games’ after she says Colston case may be referred to court of appeal
Suella Braverman, the attorney general, has announced that she is considering referring the “Colston four” case to the court of appeal. She says this would not overturn the verdict, but that some legal matters may need to be clarified.
Emily Thornberry, Braverman’s Labour shadow, has accused her of playing “political games” and undermining the sanctity of the jury system.
The Barnard Castle point is a reference to Braverman posting a tweet in defence of Dominic Cummings after his lockdown-busting excursion last year. This was widely criticised because her status as a government law officer meant that the tweet could be seen as putting undue pressure on the police, who at the time were having to make a judgment about whether an offence had been committed.
My colleague Haroon Siddique has more on Braverman’s latest intervention here.
Jamie Jenkins, a former ONS statistician, has posted a graph on Twitter showing how the proportion of Covid patients in hospital in England primarily being treated for something else has been rising. (See 11.56am.)
The Office for National Statistics has published its latest coronavirus infection survey bulletin. It is now publishing early headline results on Wednesdays, and the main figures out today, for the week ending Friday 31 December, are the same as those on Wednesday. The ONS says infections were increasing in all parts of the UK that week. The figures were:
England: around 1 in 15 people had coronavirus
Wales: around 1 in 20 people had coronavirus
Northern Ireland: around 1 in 25 people had coronavirus
Scotland: around 1 in 20 people had coronavirus
But today’s report has more detail. It includes this chart, showing the trend in the English regions.
And this chart shows Covid rates in England by age.
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the No 10 spokesperson confirmed that the proposal to the PM from David Brownlow, the Tory donor who initially funded the Downing Street flat refurbishment, for a “Great Exhibition” was passed on to the culture department by No 10. The spokesman said:
As is quite usual, when any suggestions such as this are put forward, it is right that it is passed on to the relevant department to take forward.
And as you’re aware, Oliver Dowden [the then-culture secretary] met with Lord Brownlow at the Royal Albert Hall on the joint proposal and you’ll have seen that was declared in the regular DCMS transparency returns.
As I say, it is normal practice that when an idea or proposal is put to the Prime Minister, it is referred to the relevant departments to take forward, and in this case the decision was taken not to take this any further.
Labour claims that this amounts to “cash for access” corruption.
Asked why the Great Exhibition proposal was dropped, the spokesperson said:
We’ve taken forward the idea of Festival UK and Unboxed 2022, which you can see all the details off on the website and is available for everybody to see. We went with that, which we confirmed in 2018 and was set out in the manifesto in 2019.
At least 40% of Covid cases in Scottish hospitals admitted for other reasons, latest figures suggest
New data from Public Health Scotland (PHS) suggests at least 40% of Covid-positive patients in Scottish hospitals were admitted for another medical reason, and that in some areas, the proportion could be higher.
After mounting calls from opposition parties for proper data, PHS said sampling in Grampian and Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHS GGC) had confirmed the proportion of Covid cases in hospitals with clinically-significant Covid infections is now lower than it was when the Delta variant was dominant last year.
The NHS GGC sampling, carried out over two days earlier this month, found 43% of patients with confirmed Covid were not hospitalised because of the virus. Based on six days sampling by NHS Grampian, which includes Aberdeen, it was 40%.
Public Health Scotland said this data was very useful in helping decide whether to relax or tighten Covid controls; opposition parties have questioned whether the strict controls introduced for Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, were unnecessarily onerous. The agency said:
Knowing this information can help signal whether population-level changes in public health measures may be warranted, such as a tightening or easing of restrictions. It can also help us to predict whether we are likely to see future pressures on hospital systems based on recent patterns of infections in the surrounding community.
Those data compare to much more detailed figures released for NHS England showing 37% of Covid-positive patients were admitted on Tuesday 4 January for another reason. (See 11.56am.) In August last year – when the harsher Delta variant was dominant, PHS data showed 32% of patients with Covid were admitted for another medical reason.
The PHS figures also show the elderly made up a far greater proportion of those hospitalised because of the virus, suggested younger adults were not ill due to Covid. People aged 65 or over made up 42% of all admissions because of Covid-19, and just 26% of those with it.
The agency added that as of 5 January, 91.1% of all Scotland’s Covid cases were now Omicron, some six weeks after it first emerged in Scotland.
Downing Street has insisted that there is no need for further Covid restrictions in England, despite military personnel being drafted in to help out in hospitals in London. (See 9.15am.) The No 10 spokesman told journalists at the daily lobby briefing:
The prime minister has been clear on controls. Plan B is balanced and proportionate to respond to the Omicron variant. It is continuing to help reduce its spread. But the important thing is the booster programme and the effectiveness it has in stopping the disease.
The military have helped out throughout the pandemic and they will do so again. We know that staff absences are contributing to the pressure the NHS is currently facing. Of course we will continue to take appropriate measures to ensure the NHS has the support they need.
When it was put to the spokesman that the need to call in the army suggested the NHS was at risk of being overwhelmed, which should be the trigger for a move to Covid alert level 5, the spokesman said that decisions about changing Covid alert levels were a matter for the chief medical officer for England (Prof Chris Whitty) and his Scottish, Welsh and and Northern Irish counterparts.
Omicron wave may not peak in Wales for another fortnight, Drakeford says
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, is holding a Covid briefing now. There is a live feed here.
In his opening remarks Drakeford said that Covid cases in Wales were much higher than in previous waves and that the peak of the Omicron wave could be up to two weeks away. He said:
Omicron is now the dominant form of the virus in Wales and cases are rising rapidly every day … Cases are far higher now than they were at the peak of the previous waves.
Unlike previous waves, which have lasted many months, we believe this one will be short-lived. This is because of the speed Omicron is moving at. We haven’t reached the peak of this wave yet. This could be another 10 to 14 days away.
Drakeford also confirmed that the Welsh government was making no changes to the current restrictions in place.
Nearly 40% of Covid hospital cases in England now patients primarily being treated for something else, latest figures show
NHS England has this morning published its latest “primary diagnosis” supplement. This is a dataset that shows how many of the daily Covid hospital cases are patients being treated in hospital for Covid, and how many are patients with Covid being treated primary for something else.
The hospital figures that are published daily do not make this distinction
The latest figure is for Tuesday 4 January and it shows that in England 13,045 patients were in hospital with Covid on that day, but only 8,200 for Covid. That means only 63% of Covid cases were in hospital primary because of Covid.
This figures has been drifting down. The equivalent figure for the previous Tuesday, when total Covid cases were 8,321, was 67%, and the Tuesday before that, when overall cases were 6,245, 71% of them were people being treated primary for Covid. At the start of December the figure was 74%.
As PA Media reports, the number of patients being treated primarily for Covid rose from 5,578 on 28 December to 8,200 a week later (a jump of 47%), while those with Covid but being treated primarily for something else rose from 2,743 to 4,845 (a jump of 77%).
The figures cover acute hospital admissions only.
This morning Paul Scully, the minister for London, said the Covid trend in London was “encouraging”. (See 9.56am.) But, as the BBC’s Robert Cuffe points out in a helpful Twitter thread, they are rising everywhere else – and even in London the picture is not straightforward. The thread starts here.
Labour urges parliamentary commissioner for standards to investigate PM’s ‘cash for access’ text
Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, has said that Labour is asking the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, to investigate the text messages between Boris Johnson and Lord Brownlow, the Tory donor who initially funded his flat refurbishment. Reed said the WhatsApp message from Johnson to Brownlow that included both a request for help with the refurbishment costs and an assurance that Brownlow’s plans for a “Great Exhibition” were been looked at suggested a “cash for access” arrangement.
Reed told the Today programme:
What we’re seeing here is a case of, potentially, cash for access where Lord Brownlow was given access to ministers to try and influence them over decisions of spending taxpayers’ money – that is why this matters so immensely.
Those very cosy text messages show there was a quid pro quo in operation between the prime minister and Lord Brownlow, and we need to get to the absolute bottom of this.
Paul Scully, the business minister, dismissed claims the message was inappropriate, stressing that the “Great Exhibition” is not going ahead anyway. (See 10.44am.) But Reed said that was irrelevant. He told Today:
The issue is not whether it happened, it is whether rich people can pay to get access to government ministers to try and influence them over how they decide to spend taxpayers’ money.
Demand for foreign holidays returning to pre-pandemic levels, say travel companies
Travel companies say demand for foreign holidays is returning to pre-pandemic levels following the government’s decision to relax travel rules.
As PA Media reports, Steve Heapy, chief executive of tour operator Jet2holidays and leisure airline Jet2.com, said:
We have seen an immediate and dramatic spike in bookings, with volumes since the government announcement heading towards pre-pandemic levels, which demonstrates just how much demand is out there among people wanting to get away for a much-needed holiday.
A spokeswoman for the tour operator Tui said:
We’ve already seen an immediate and strong uptick in bookings and we now expect summer 2022 bookings to be normalised.
January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday bookings and demand is yet to reach pre-Covid levels, so we need to see sustained confidence in travel so the industry can fully recover.
And Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury travel company Kuoni, said:
I predict travel will be 90% back to 2019 levels before the end of spring. We’re already seeing increased call volumes and inquiries about trips for the year ahead as confidence builds.
On Wednesday the UK government announced that pre-departure tests for people coming to England from abroad were being abandoned. As the Scottish government said yesterday, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also adopting the same rules.
‘Nothing untoward’ in Johnson’s ‘great exhibition’ texts, says minister
There was “nothing untoward” in the prime minister discussing a proposed “great exhibition” with a Conservative donor who was helping to fund his Downing Street flat refurbishment, Paul Scully, the business minister, said this morning. My colleague Jamie Grierson has the story here.
Today’s figures from NHS England also show that on average there are almost 10,000 patients in hospital each day who no longer needed to stay in hospital but who were not being discharged. On average, only 42% of patients meeting the discharge criteria were being discharged per day in the week ending 2 January, NHS England says.
The problem is caused largely by the lack of places available in social care.
NHS England says this is a particular problem for long-stay patients (who have been in hospital for at least three weeks). It says that last week on average there were 4,495 long-stay patients in hospital every day who no longer needed to stay, but on average only 440 of them were actually discharged per day.
Covid-related staff absences in hospital trusts in England up 59% in a week, says NHS
Covid-related staff absences at hospital trusts in England have risen by 59% in a week, according to figures released by NHS England this morning.
As PA Media reports, a total of 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid reasons on 2 January, up 59% on the previous week (24,632) and more than three times the number at the start of December (12,508), according to the figures. PA says:
The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.
In north-west England, 7,338 NHS staff at hospital trusts were absent due to Covid on January 2, up 85% week-on-week from 3,966, while in north-east England and Yorkshire there were 8,788 absences, more than double the number a week earlier (4,179).
In London absences were up 4% week-on-week, from 4,580 to 4,765.
Taking into account non-Covid absences, there were 82,384 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England who were absent for all sickness reasons (including isolation) on 2 January, up 21% on the previous week (68,082) and up 37% from the start of December (60,136).
Commenting on the figures, Prof Stephen Powis, the NHS national medical director, said:
Omicron means more patients to treat and fewer staff to treat them. In fact, around 10,000 more colleagues across the NHS were absent each day last week compared with the previous seven days and almost half of all absences are now down to Covid.
While we don’t know the full scale of the potential impact this new strain will have, it’s clear it spreads more easily and, as a result, Covid cases in hospitals are the highest they’ve been since February last year – piling even more pressure on hard working staff.
Covid trend in London ‘encouraging’, says minister
Paul Scully, who is minister for London as well as a business minister, told LBC this morning that he thought the situation in the capital was “encouraging”. Asked if Omicron was easing there, he replied:
I think it is looking encouraging, the trend at the moment, but clearly we need to be on our guard because there is still pressure on the NHS in London.
It is not just about the case numbers – there is a clear disconnect between case numbers and hospitalisations – but you’ve also then, because of the increased testing and the increased awareness by people, you’ve got bigger absences as well, and that’s obviously putting extra pressure on the NHS and other public services.
This chart, from the government’s UK Covid dashboard, shows how case rates in London are starting to fall.
And Covid hospital admissions in London seem to be falling too.
Military on standby to extend hospital support beyond London, operation chief says
Good morning. As we report in an overnight story, around 200 military personnel are being deployed in London hospitals to help them deal with the consequences of the Omicron surge.
Air Commodore John Lyle, the officer in charge of the deployment, has been giving interviews this morning and he told BBC Breakfast that similar interventions may take place in other regions in the country. Asked about the likelihood of this, he said
We can’t really forecast too far ahead, but certainly, throughout this current surge, we know that it’s particularly difficult in London at the minute but we are aware that this is impacting all across the United Kingdom. And so we remain in discussions and there are a number of areas where we’re looking at the potential for more assistance.
So, over the coming weeks or months, I think we’ll learn a lot from how the progress is made through London and potentially there could be further military support required in other areas.
Lyle also pointed out that the armed forces have already deployed about 1,800 personnel across the UK to help with the Covid response, mostly with the booster programme, but also helping the ambulance service.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes new data on the social impacts of Covid.
9.30am: NHS England is due to publish its situation report for hospitals.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
12pm: The ONS publishes its latest Covid infection survey.
12.15pm: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, holds a Covid briefing.
Lunchtime: Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is visiting a London hospital.
I will covering UK Covid developments in this blog today, but for wider coronavirus coverage, do read our global live blog.
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Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman of the British Medical Association, told Sky News this morning that he had never known a time when the NHS was having to deal with so many staff absences. He said:
Every winter of course, the NHS has additional pressures, but I don’t think anyone who’s worked in the NHS has experienced this level of absence of their colleagues and we’re feeling it in very real time because doctors and nurses and healthcare workers are having to cover for their absent colleagues – that’s adding additional, exceptional strain.
Asked how close the NHS was to being overwhelmed, he replied:
I think that the words like overwhelmed, I mean, I think we should just look at the reality.
The reality of the army having been drafted in to London, the reality of 24 hospitals having declared critical incidents, the reality of having some hospitals having to cancel all their routine surgery, the reality of general practices having to cancel clinics on the day.
I’m a GP, I’ve never known it this bad. We’re having to literally contact patients without notice that the staff member or a doctor or nurse just isn’t in today because they’re self-isolating.
This is not normal, and therefore, the government does need to recognise this is clearly an NHS under extreme pressure and the living reality sadly for thousands of patients is that they’re suffering the consequences of such pressures and also staff absence.
Nagpaul said he wanted to see more done to bring Omicron cases down, better protection for health workers, including higher-grade masks, and guaranteed access to lateral flow tests for NHS staff.
Source: Thanks msn.com