Omicron wave sweeps across northern England and puts pressure on UK healthcare system

A few encouraging signs in London, a critical situation in the south-east and a landscape which is darkening at high speed in the north of England: the Omicron wave continues to impose considerable pressure on the British healthcare system (the famous National Health Service, NHS), further highlighting its serious structural weaknesses.

In the capital, epicenter of the Omicron epidemic, the rate of hospitalizations certainly seems to have slowed down. According to the latest official data, the number of new infections, over the seven days before 1is January, is down 25.5% in the City and the borough of Hackney (in the east of London). In contrast, over the same period, infections jumped 130% in Cumbria (north-west England) and 124.7% in Northumberland (north-east). Thursday, January 6, 179,756 positive cases had still been counted at the national level during the last twenty-four hours.

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“The growth in the number of new positive cases is clearly slowing in London. But the wave is now reaching older populations, and it is too early to observe the effect of the reunion of the end of the year holidays and the return to school ”, warns Chris Hopson, director of NHS Providers, an organization representing hospitals. “The pressure is moving from London to the rest of the country, with hospitalizations linked to the coronavirus on the rise, and staff absences are combined with an already very tense hospital situation”, adds the specialist, worried that establishments in the north of the country, less well endowed than those in the south, will have more difficulty in coping with the shock.

Long wait for an ambulance

Downing Street confirmed on Wednesday 5 January that “More than twenty” hospitals (all outside London) reported a “Critical accident” in recent days, that is to say a maximum level of alert meaning that they are no longer able to ensure, with their internal staff, an adequate level of care. In the South West, hospitals in Bath, Poole or Bournemouth are concerned: there were only 4 free beds in Poole on Wednesday, and 25 in Bournemouth. The 17 hospitals in Greater Manchester (in the north-west) have deprogrammed non-emergency operations, while the number of hospitalizations has tripled in two weeks, rising to 1,200.

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It is not sure that “The health system manages to overcome” the wave, warned Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester. National media even reported that in the north of the country, people fearing cardiac arrest and calling the emergency number 999 were advised to go to hospital on their own, both waiting times for an ambulance are long. “Here, we always advise people feeling unwell to call 999 for an ambulance”, nuance the doctor Brian McGregor, president for Yorkshire (North-East) of the British Medical Association, the main British union of doctors.

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Omicron wave sweeps across northern England and puts pressure on UK healthcare system