The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.
Official statistics this week showed there have been 100,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘I am sorry to have to tell you that today the number of deaths recorded from Covid in the UK has surpassed 100,000, and it is hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic.’
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, he said he takes full responsibility for all the actions that Government has taken during the pandemic and promised to learn the lessons of what has happened. Meanwhile, Labour Leader Kier Starmer called the number of deaths a ‘tragic milestone’ and accused the Government of being slow in its response to the pandemic, including on entering lockdown, distributing PPE, protecting care homes and securing borders.
NHS Providers said it is a ‘tragedy’ that there have been over 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 and paid tribute to the commitment of NHS and care staff. It added: ‘We won’t know the true impact of Covid-19 for a long time to come because of its long-term effects – but, as well as the high death rate, it’s particularly concerning that this virus has widened health inequalities and affected Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities disproportionately.’
The Health Foundation has argued ‘the scene for the current crisis was set long before the virus arrived’, and suggests that a lack of long-term planning and historic underinvestment in public services led to an inadequate social care system, staff shortages in the NHS, and low capacity in public health. The Foundation has called for a full inquiry on the pandemic, which assesses if health and economic inequalities in the UK have hindered its response.
On Monday, the Office for National Statistics released figures on coronavirus related deaths by occupation. It found that between March and December 2020 there were nearly 8,000 Covid-19 related deaths in England and Wales within the working age population (those aged 20 to 64 years). Nearly two-thirds of these deaths were among men, with men in elementary occupations or caring, leisure and other service occupations having the highest rates of death involving Covid-19. Men and women who worked in social care or nursing occupations had a significantly higher rates of death involving Covid-19.
NHS Confederation said the figures ‘demonstrate all too clearly the toll the pandemic has taken’ on frontline workers and said that there must be measures to protect workers who are more exposed to the virus. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called for more detailed information on how Covid-19 is impacting health and care workers, including factoring in ethnicity. RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘The loss of life of health care workers is heart-breaking and is felt profoundly by every member of the nursing community…The fact the rate of death amongst nursing staff is significantly higher than the general population highlights the absolute need to properly investigate why this is happening and give them the protection they need.’
Speaking to the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday, NHS England Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens highlighted the pressures on the NHS front line in light of the ongoing pandemic. There are just under 33,000 Covid-19 inpatients in hospitals within England over the last two weeks, this is a sharp acceleration from Christmas, where the total was around 18,000. The level of coronavirus rates differs across the country, with the Midlands reporting that 75% of its critical care wards are filled with Covid-19 patients.
The latest Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission of Coronavirus (REACT-1) survey, published today, shows that although infections in England have flattened, case levels remain very high. Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial College London, said: ‘We’re not seeing the sharp drop in infections that happened under the first lockdown and if infections aren’t brought down significantly, hospitals won’t be able to cope with the number of people that need critical care.’
The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said the figures are a ‘stark reminder of the need to remain vigilant’.