Tory MPs criticised the BBC over its Covid coverage last night after it gave airtime to a Left-wing critic of the PM.
Dr Zahid Chauhan – a GP in Oldham and Labour councillor – was invited on Radio 4’s Today programme to take aim at Boris Johnson.
He claimed it was wrong for the PM to say, as he did on Tuesday, that the country could ‘ride out’ the Omicron threat when the public was ‘suffering’.
It came as the Today programme aired a string of warnings from other NHS figures over the ‘really challenging’ circumstances facing hospitals.
Yesterday, more than 20 NHS trusts declared a so-called ‘critical incident’ over increasing Covid admissions and virus-related staff shortages.
But the PM’s official spokesman said that some incidents lasted only ‘a matter of hours, a morning or afternoon’, meaning the declarations were ‘not a good indicator necessarily of how the NHS is performing.’
Tory MPs criticised the BBC over its Covid coverage last night after it gave airtime to a Left-wing critic of the PM. It came as the Today programme aired a string of warnings from other NHS figures over the ‘really challenging’ circumstances facing hospitals
Meanwhile it was claimed that NHS officials were under pressure to relax infection prevention and control rules that require contacts of confirmed Covid cases in hospitals to be isolated for 14 days – regardless of testing negative.
Yesterday’s Today programme led with the story that 17 struggling hospitals in Greater Manchester had put non-urgent surgery on hold.
Presenter Nick Robinson then interviewed Dr Chauhan, who he introduced as ‘a GP in Oldham and a Labour councillor in the area’.
Asked what the cancellation of non-urgent surgery would mean, he said: ‘It means for my patients that they will be waiting longer, they will be unfortunately suffering more… If you are waiting for a hip replacement and you can’t walk, that means you are in pain.’
Asked whether the cancellations would have been necessary had restrictions been in place, he said: ‘If you have appropriate availability of lateral flow tests and PCR tests available, that means staff can come back to work.
Dr Zahid Chauhan – a GP in Oldham and Labour councillor – was invited on Radio 4’s Today programme to take aim at Boris Johnson. He claimed it was wrong for the PM to say, as he did on Tuesday, that the country could ‘ride out’ the Omicron threat when the public was ‘suffering’
‘In the Manchester area people could not book PCR tests yesterday. All these factors play a role. It does not help when your Prime Minister says we will ride it out while the public is suffering.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Medical experts are there to express a view about Covid issues and risks but not to make political points about the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition.
‘If you invite someone on for their medical opinion and they talk about their political views, it ends up with allegations of political bias.’
A BBC spokesman said: ‘We made it clear at the top of the interview that the GP was also a Labour councillor and none of the questions put to him were of a political nature.’
The inconvenient truth: More patients were in hospital two years ago
Omicron has swept through the UK with infections at record levels for the past three weeks and hospital admissions are now on the rise.
One in ten NHS staff are also off work, with many isolating, placing additional strain on the health service – though it is no worse than at this time last year.
But Boris Johnson is confident the country can ride out the current wave without further restrictions.
So is there reason for optimism?
Hospitals in England have had fewer beds occupied this winter than they did pre-Covid, latest figures show. An average of 89,097 general and acute beds were open each day in the week to December 26, of which 77,901 were occupied.
But the NHS was looking after more hospital patients in the week to December 26, 2019. Data from NHS England show there were an average of 95,917 beds open and 86,078 occupied that week, giving an occupancy rate of 89.7 per cent.
This is higher than the 87.4 per cent in the most recent data, suggesting there is room for further admissions.
The number of beds unavailable because of Norovirus outbreaks has almost halved, which makes it easier to move patients around, allowing for further admissions.
Hospitals in England have had fewer beds occupied this winter than they did pre-Covid, latest figures show. An average of 89,097 general and acute beds were open each day in the week to December 26, of which 77,901 were occupied (stock photo)
Where’s the flu?
Despite bleak warnings of a ‘double peak’ of flu and Covid crippling the NHS, seasonal influenza has yet to take off – reducing normal winter pressures on hospitals.
Flu cases are currently 95 per cent below levels of 2019-20, the last winter before the pandemic.
During the last bad flu season, in 2017-2018 there were 22,000 flu deaths in England and Wales – but latest ONS data shows that over the past month there have been just 1,640 deaths due to flu.
Spare intensive care capacity
The NHS has more spare capacity in intensive care now than it did pre-pandemic and could open even more beds if it needed to.
The number of Covid patients in critical care in England is half the level of previous peaks. There were an average of 4,079 adult critical care beds open each day in the week to December 26, but only 75 per cent of them – 3,058 – were occupied.
Compare that to an occupancy rate of 79.6 per cent in the week to December 26, 2019, when there was an average of 3,647 adult critical care beds open and 2,903 occupied.
On January 24 last year there were 3,736 Covid patients in intensive care in England – the highest of the pandemic – with 6,270 critical beds open for any illness.
Covid infections in England have soared to record levels, but the number of patients in intensive care has remained flat since Omicron emerged in the UK.
Just five per cent of patients in hospital with Covid are on mechanical ventilators, compared with 11 per cent at the peak of the pandemic last January. The number of Covid patients in England’s hospitals has doubled in the past fortnight and there are currently 15,659 patients receiving treatment.
But only 769 are on ventilators – fewer than two months ago when cases were significantly lower. At the peak last January, there were 34,336 Covid patients in England’s hospitals, including 3,736 in intensive care.
And the proportion of patients with Covid in hospital who then end up in intensive care has plummeted compared with the numbers in April.
Fewer A&E admissions
Fewer people are attending A&E and being admitted to hospital as an emergency with any illness than before the pandemic.
There were 2,040,323 A&E attendances in England in November, down from 2,143,505 in the same month in 2019.
The number being admitted to hospital as an emergency has also fallen, from 559,556 to 506,238.
However, patients are being made to wait longer in A&E, with just 74 per cent admitted, transferred and discharged within four hours in November 2021.
The fall in attendances and admissions comes despite doctors now having to treat patients with coronavirus, indicating reduced demand from other conditions.
But the number of patients made to wait more than 12 hours for a hospital bed after doctors decided to admit them has rocketed from 1,111 to 10,646.
Omicron is good news
Multiple studies now show Omicron is less dangerous than previous variants, raising hopes it may be possible finally to learn to live with the virus.
South Africa was able to lift its night-time curfew for the first time in 21 months in December after the Omicron wave peaked without overwhelming hospitals.
A study on hospital admissions in the country, where cases first accelerated, revealed it may be ten-times less deadly than previous variants.
The UK Health Security Agency said data shows people are half as likely to have to attend A&E or be admitted to hospital with Omicron as they are with Delta. And they say the risk of hospital admission alone for Omicron – which now accounts for nine in ten infections – is around a third of that for Delta.
Booster drive is key
The UK has given a booster to a higher proportion of its population than any EU country. Those boosted are eight times less likely to end up in hospital than those who are unvaccinated, UK Health Security Agency data shows.
Around 34.5million people in the UK have received a third dose of the vaccine, which helps protect them and reduces the chances of the NHS becoming overwhelmed with Covid patients.
People no longer have any protection against symptomatic infection from the variant 20 weeks after a second dose of AstraZeneca.
And vaccine effectiveness also wanes over the same period of time in Pfizer and Moderna jabs, down to just 10 per cent.
But the vaccine is 88 per cent effective at protecting against hospital admission two weeks after a booster shot, highlighting its importance.
Up to 90 per cent of patients in intensive care with Covid have not had their booster and over 60 per cent have not had any vaccine at all.
STEPHEN GLOVER: Ignore the BBC and Labour shroud-wavers. The NHS is not in crisis… and Boris is right to stand firm in the face of their hysteria
Can Britain ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave without another lockdown, as Boris Johnson suggested on Tuesday? Or is the NHS being hopelessly overwhelmed as Covid infection rates soar?
The answer to the first question is Yes. The answer to the second is No. But listening to Labour and much media coverage, particularly on the BBC, you would think we were in the grip of a terrible scourge which can only be checked by draconian measures.
Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, yesterday stood in for Sir Keir Starmer, infected with Covid for the second time.
In the Commons she painted a lurid picture of the supposedly dire state of the NHS, and implied that her party was ready to support further restrictions.
Can Britain ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave without another lockdown, as Boris Johnson suggested on Tuesday? Or is the NHS being hopelessly overwhelmed as Covid infection rates soar? The answer to the first question is Yes
Meanwhile, on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, hysteria was being whipped up. Presenter Nick Robinson informed listeners in sepulchral tones that ‘the Prime Minister was forced to acknowledge yesterday that the NHS is under huge pressure’.
Why forced? Didn’t he choose to say what he said?
Mr Robinson then interviewed a GP from Oldham who happened to be a Labour councillor. This gentleman took a gloomy view after 17 hospitals in his area of Greater Manchester put some non-urgent operations on hold. Prompted by Mr Robinson, he agreed that a lack of new restrictions was partly to blame.
Mr Robinson also questioned a representative of the Road Haulage Association, who supplied a relatively upbeat picture, saying that problems created by staff absences ‘are not really translating into the supply chain’. The somewhat disappointed interviewer concluded: ‘So not too great a problem, at least now.’
Over on BBC television news, the lugubrious figure of Hugh Pym, the BBC’s Health Editor, makes my heart sink each night. In the unlikely event of his ever finding some good news to report, he would still contrive to sound miserable.
People who claim to speak on behalf of NHS managers, nurses, ambulance drivers and other hospital workers are swarming on to the airwaves to tell us the NHS will come apart at the seams unless the Government acts.
Will it? I don’t doubt that those working in hospitals are under huge pressure, as is usual at this time of year. They deserve our respect and gratitude. But it doesn’t follow that there should be a lockdown or other restrictions.
Needless to say, the next few weeks are bound to be challenging. Infection rates will go up in some places, though probably not in London, where Omicron seems to have peaked. Pressure on many hospitals is likely to increase. Death rates may rise.
So it is certain that there will be more calls for further stringent measures. While announcing a very welcome relaxation of Covid testing requirements, the PM repeated yesterday in the Commons that the Government doesn’t want to ‘shut down the country again’. We must hope he sticks to his guns.
There are two main flaws in the arguments put forward by the Government’s critics. The first is that they exaggerate the predicament of the NHS. The occupancy of hospital beds in England is close to what it was five years ago, pre-Covid, during a gruelling winter for the health service.
In the Commons Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, painted a lurid picture of the supposedly dire state of the NHS, and implied that her party was ready to support further restrictions
According to official figures, there were 17,276 hospital patients with Covid in the UK on Tuesday, compared with 30,775 exactly a year earlier. There are about 140,000 hospital beds in the UK.
In other words, although there is obviously a lot of pressure on the NHS, which is why hospitals in the Greater Manchester area have stopped doing some non-urgent operations, the situation is not as bad as in the recent past.
Indeed, Jeremy Hunt — a former health secretary and no great fan of the PM’s — was almost certainly right when he said yesterday in the Commons that admissions to hospital in London are no longer increasing.
It is perfectly true, of course, that the number of hospital beds in the UK has more than halved over the past 30 years. Germany has more than three times as many per head. Our vaunted NHS has been rash in getting rid of beds, creating unnecessary constraints.
Nevertheless, even with those limitations, the NHS is not yet in the perilous state depicted by some of the Government’s critics, and Angela Rayner was scarcely justified in claiming yesterday that it ‘is struggling to keep afloat’.
As for Labour’s claim that the NHS is unable to function properly because of consistent underfunding, that is hard to swallow, since expenditure has nearly doubled in real terms over the past 40 years, and this Government has been funnelling countless extra billions into it. The NHS has an insatiable appetite.
All that can be said with reasonable confidence is that it is not at breaking point. The Government must continue to resist the false contention that it is. Otherwise we will drift towards lockdown.
There’s a second major flaw in the case made by those agitating for further restrictions. They seem not to have noticed that, although our daily rate of new infections is comparable with those of France, Italy or Spain, our Covid death rate in recent weeks has often been lower than theirs.
Admittedly, yesterday’s figure of 334 fatalities for the previous 24 hours was high — the highest since March. But it almost certainly included many deaths unreported during the Christmas and New Year break.
Looking back over the past few weeks, the daily Covid death rate in the UK has tended to be markedly below that of several European countries, some of which have had lower infection rates.
One possible explanation, floated by Dr Clive Dix, a former head of the vaccine taskforce, is that the United Kingdom’s earlier reliance on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine — preposterously vilified by the likes of President Macron of France — has given us an edge.
Another explanation, which seems even more likely to me, is that Britain has accomplished a significantly higher proportion of booster jabs than France, Italy and even Germany.
Granted, nearly nine million people in the UK still haven’t received a booster, even though there are supposed to be two million slots available this week. Refusing a booster (unless you have, or have just had, Covid) is a very foolish thing to do, in view of the high degree of protection it confers.
The point stands that the UK’s booster programme has hitherto been more successful than those of most European countries. This must account in large measure for our recent less alarming fatality rate.
In short, Mr Johnson’s evangelising of boosters, and his avoidance of lockdown measures, is succeeding — and will succeed all the more if a substantial number of those nine million step forward to be jabbed.
Some 100 rebellious Tory MPs have put steel in the PM’s spine, since he knows they would oppose more restrictive measures. But he must, all the same, be congratulated for resisting the doomsayers in the Labour Party, the scientific community (though there are notable exceptions) and on the BBC.
Will Boris Johnson stand firm? These will be difficult weeks. The pressure on him will be immense. But if he can carry the country through Omicron, so that the economy and society do not suffer further grievous blows, it will be an undeniable political triumph.
Source: Daily Mail