NHS England to Cut Covid Alert Level From Four to Three

NHS England is set to reduce its national Covid alert level from four to three in light of falling Covid hospitalisation rates. This reduction should enable hospitals to begin tackling record-long waiting lists for other illnesses. The Independent has the story.

NHS England has said it will reduce the national coronavirus emergency incident level today as the number of patients in hospital continues to fall.

The decision will hand back some control to local NHS hospitals and comes as NHS England revealed its plan for starting to tackle record backlogs in waits after thousands of operations were cancelled.

NHS England said that more than 380,000 coronavirus patients have been treated in hospital since the start of the pandemic, with one patient admitted to critical care every 30 minutes.

Chief Executive Simon Stevens said: “We had over 34,000 severely ill Coronavirus patients in our hospitals in mid-January. That number is now 4,000 and although that is still about 400 more Covid patients than we had this same day a year ago, nevertheless that very sharp decrease in the number of patients with Covid in hospital is a consequence of both declining infection rates across the community and the impact that’s now being felt from the vaccination programme.

“As a result of those much reduced acute pressures on the health service, today I’m recommending that we reduce the national alert level across the health service from level four to level three, and that would take effect today.”

Earlier this month, the number of people waiting to receive hospital treatment in England reached a record high of 4.6 million. Yesterday, the Telegraph reported that the “stay at home” message has been behind a major fall in urgent referrals, such as for lung cancer.

Urgent lung cancer referrals have fallen by a third, as a consultant blames the “stay at home” message.

Some 20,300 fewer people were referred for treatment in England between March 2020 and January 2021 compared with the previous year, according to an analysis by Cancer Research UK. This is a 34% fall in patients.

The charity has now warned that multiple lockdowns have resulted in damaging delays in life-saving treatment, as people are either ignoring symptoms altogether or putting off seeking help in order to comply with Covid rules.

As well as reducing the national alert level, NHS England has promised more money to help hospitals work on their waiting lists. The Independent reports:

[Simon Stevens said]: “We’ve got funding certainty for our Covid costs for the first half of the year, which I personally felt was very important that we had that planning certainty. We’ve got extra funding that we’ll be deploying to tackle long waiting lists, we are doubling down on the investment guarantees that we have made for mental health services and GP and community services.”

NHS England said it was putting in place an £8.1 billion plan to help recover all patient services with NHS trusts rewarded with money from a £1 billion pot in exchange for doing more operations and seeing increased numbers of patients in the coming months.

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