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Royal College of Physicians warns pressure on NHS staff may get worse

The RCP issues a warning that pressure on NHS staff may get worse before it gets better as the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has issued a warning that pressure on NHS staff may get worse before it gets better as the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt.

The very real possibility of a second peak, coupled with the pressures of a normal winter flu season, risks bringing the NHS to a grinding halt. The RCP is calling for urgent plans to be put in place to mitigate this, including focused work as part of the annual flu vaccinations programme:

  1. Bringing forward the normal NHS and social care workforce flu vaccination programmes with an aim for 100% uptake.
  2. Urgently reviewing the potential benefit of providing the flu vaccine to everyone in the clinically extremely vulnerable grouping.
  3. Rolling out dedicated flu vaccination programmes in institutional settings like prisons
  4. Securing additional batches of the flu vaccine to maximise availability
  5. Offering the vaccine to everyone over the age of 50 if enough vaccine is available .
  6. Ensuring that if a COVID-19 vaccination becomes available at the same time as the annual flu vaccine, the two vaccination programmes work together to reach as many people as possible.

In addition to preparations for the winter flu season, the RCP has set out several priorities to help prepare the NHS for future waves of COVID-19, including the need to ensure the NHS estate is fully able to cope. It also wants a ‘reservist’ clinical workforce to be put on standby for situations in which the NHS and social care workforce is overwhelmed. This would include those who have recently retired, those taking a career break, clinical academics, and those who work outside of the NHS.

The RCP is also calling on the government to learn from previous shortages of PPE and testing for NHS staff, to ensure that we are fully prepared for a second peak, and to recognise that health and social care are inextricably linked, with decisions in one affecting the other. The RCP believes that now is the time for local systems and providers in both the NHS and social care to come together to develop local plans for future waves based on national guidance.

Professor Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians, said:

'With lockdown further loosening this weekend for many, there is no time to waste in ensuring that the NHS and social care are prepared for the very real potential of future COVID-19 waves.

'It is crucial that we learn the lessons from the last three months, as well as considering the additional challenges that future waves may bring if they coincide with winter flu.

'Staff across the NHS are nervous about what lies ahead and we owe it to them to do everything we can to ensure that the system is ready to cope. It goes without saying that no clinician should ever be put in the situation again where they don’t have the PPE they need.'

Notes to editors

For more information please call Hannah Perlin, RCP Media Manager on 0203 075 1466 or email hannah.perlin@rcplondon.ac.uk

For out-of-hours media enquiries, please call 07896 416409.