Responding to the Government’s action plan for tackling coronavirus, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare system, said:
“The NHS is preparing for this virus to spread significantly and we need to plan for the worst while doing everything possible to contain and delay widespread transmission. As the plan makes clear, what we do individually will make a difference, and that especially means taking steps to protect the vulnerable.
“At this stage, the service is experiencing a major surge in 111 calls and, in a positive move, we are seeing much more activity through the 111 online service. We do not want anyone who thinks they are at risk presenting at A&E or their GP surgery – protecting those front line services is a key priority.
“This is the first containment phase, but we all understand that as the virus spreads, we will need to flex NHS resources to the demand. This is likely to mean that where clinicians believe we can safely defer routine operations and treatment, the service will do so. Containment and delay is also vital because there should be some respite as the normal winter infectious diseases ease off when the warmer weather arrives. But we should be in no doubt about the intense pressures on all parts of the service.
“We just need to remember that when it needs to, the NHS is able to adapt, deploy its amazing staff in different ways and adjust its priorities – and that can mean selecting those in greatest need and making their care the priority.
“We are looking to the Government to work closely with the NHS to provide what it needs to tackle this virus. And if, for example, waiting lists and times do start to rise further, more resources will certainly be needed to help things get back on track when the virus has passed. It is also vital that ministers honour their repeated promises to fix the crisis in social care which is currently adding to those NHS pressures.”