Lisa Nandy MP: The strain is showing on our NHS
The vaccine roll-out has stalled and the vaccines minister is nowhere to be seen. The UK has one of the highest infection rates in the world right now.
The NHS is dealing with rising numbers of people being admitted to hospital because of Covid, and tragically deaths have been on the increase again. After years of Government cuts to the NHS we went into the pandemic with a backlog of patients waiting for treatment.
Now, since the Covid outbreak, there are over 5 million people on NHS waiting lists.
Covid-19 has had a greater impact on our area than many other parts of the country.
Tragically 1,072 people in Wigan have died with coronavirus in the last 18 months. Our borough is in the top 10 in England and Wales for the number of fatal cases in which Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate since the pandemic began in March last year.
Prolonged periods of lockdown were devastating for local businesses and far too many children in Wigan lost months of education. We cannot afford for cases to spiral out of control again and land us back in another lockdown. In recent days the daily infection rate in the UK rose to over 50,000 and the Health Secretary has predicted this could rise to over 100,000 in the coming weeks and months.
The strain is starting to show on our NHS with ambulances backed up outside of hospitals, patients waiting hours in A&E, operations cancelled and staff exhausted.
With winter and the threat of a flu outbreak approaching we are set for a tough few months.
The Health Secretary says he is sticking to “Plan A” to encourage those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to come forward. He is right to highlight the problem.
The vast majority of hospital cases and deaths are among those who haven’t taken up the vaccination.
UK citizens are among the fortunate few who can easily access the vaccine. Yet there are still a large number of people who are yet to even have their first jab.
In Wigan 72% of people have received at least their first jab but concerningly this is still below the regional and national average.
The Government’s “Plan A” also involves offering booster jabs to the over-50s and other vulnerable groups, as well as jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds to keep the virus at bay.
But its vaccination programme is now stalling. Only 4m out of the 8.7m patients in England who are eligible for a booster jab now have had one, including just a third of care home residents and half of over-80s.
The rate of vaccinations given every day has fallen drastically. On current rates it is estimated that the booster programme won’t be complete until spring next year.
Despite the highest infection rates being amongst children only around 17% have been vaccinated so far and the roll out of this programme is not going fast enough.
This stuttering start exposes the folly of the Government’s cuts to school nurses and health visitors who help support the programme.
The Government needs to take action to drive the numbers of vaccinations being offered up to at least 500,000 a day by better utilising community pharmacists, establishing pop-up vaccination centres and mobilising retired health workers to help deliver the jabs.
It is no use ministers just saying they are sticking to “Plan A”. They need to actually deliver it.
The “wall of defence” provided by the vaccine is beginning to crumble. The Government has been too slow to take action to tackle the virus in the past and there is a real danger now of history repeating itself.
Nobody wants to see a return to the most extreme lockdown measures that we experienced at the height of the pandemic.
The Government must learn from the mistakes it has made in the past and act now rather than leave us to pay the price later.
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