NHS bosses have warned of an intensifying “health emergency” as Covid hospitalisations continue to rocket across the festive period.
The problem is exacerbated by staff absences as more and more NHS workers catch the virus.
Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, admitted that the current Omicron-driven wave of Covid looks “less bad” than previous waves, due to the reportedly milder symptoms.
However, he said that due to doubling hospital admissions seen over the festive period and beyond, the system would be stressed further and further.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Taylor said: “We would then be in a situation where it would be just very hard for the health service to do anything else than deal with coronavirus.”
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Hospital admissions in England have reached their highest levels since February 2021.
They currently stand at 12,395 people in hospital with Covid according to the latest figures from NHS England.
This has been matched by the number of NHS staff absent with the virus, doubling in nearly a month.
Already in Wales, one hospital has told people to stay away from A&E.
Swansea Bay NHS trust tweeted: “A staff shortage worsened by COVID means we can only provide a limited service at Morriston ED over the bank holiday weekend.
“ED is for life-threatening illness or serious injury ONLY. Please use alternatives whenever possible.”
Today, England reported 162,572 cases and a further 154 deaths, a massive jump from the 10 deaths reported last Saturday.
Another top NHS boss, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, told Sky News that the NHS was already “beyond full stretch”.
He said that the knock on effects of increased social mizing over Christmas could lead it come under “extreme pressure”.
Mr Hopson added that if the hospital admissions reached the point where the NHS struggled to treat other people, then the “issue of further restrictions will need to come back on the agenda.”
This comes as the Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote in a newspaper article that further restrictions would be an “absolute last resort” and the UK would have to learn to “live alongside” the virus.
Mr Taylor echoed the Health Secretary’s optimism, saying “in the medium term we should be very hopeful” and added this year might be the year that Covid stops to disrupt people’s day-to-day lives.
He added: “That doesn’t take away from the really acute challenges facing the health service now, challenges which are absolutely bound to continue for several weeks to come.”