HSJ’s daily update of what our sources are telling us about the progress of the pandemic

With many parts of the NHS facing a period of the most extreme operational pressure they have ever known, Daily Insight will bring you an update on the latest developments and concerns from those leading the efforts.

This was question that jumped to the front of the mind as HSJ revealed that half of London’s inpatients have the virus. 

Yes, the ratio is the result of the huge increase in covid infections, but as our story makes clear it has also been produced because thousands of cancer, cardiac, respiratory and other patients who would normally be thronging the wards at this time have simply not arrived.

The answer to their whereabouts, of course, is one that HSJ readers will know only too well. Across parts of the country hardest hit by the pandemic, those experiencing symptoms which might normally have led them to their GP and then to hospital treatment are staying at home, not wanting to put extra burden on the NHS and/or fearing that any interaction with the service will increase their risk of infection.

This ‘hidden’ cohort of waiters will soon flow on to the NHS waiting lists, many of them much sicker than they would have been had they contacted the service when their symptoms first occurred.

That list is of course already big enough and the situation on year plus waiters even worse than officially reported.

The changing nature of the pandemic

The third wave of the pandemic has now taken on a set of distinctive, regional characteristics.

In London and the South East the pressures are intense, with one of the capital’s senior medics tweeting on Friday that the next “100 hours” was crucial in the battle to stop intensive care being overwhelmed. However, there are signs that hospitalisation may be about to peak.

Elsewhere, fears are growing that other regions could soon be looking at the kind of situation the South East is currently enduring.

The ability of hospitals to provide oxygen to very sick patients because of the demand that covid is placing on them is also rising up the agenda, with a national investigation being launched into the issue after one trust found itself struggling

Meanwhile, the Treasury is not (as usual) helping.

For much more detail, on all this and the progress of the vaccination programme too, make sure you listen to this week’s HSJ podcast.

Oh, and another thing

As if dealing with covid-19 isn’t enough, NHS trusts were also hit by IT problems on Wednesday night which caused many NHS systems to crash. This occurred when BT suffered a “technical issue” which affected the newly installed Health and Social Care Network (HCSN), which connects trusts’ computer systems to NHS-wide solutions. It meant that some trusts and their departments were unable to access their own IT systems, such as patient record and triage tools.

NHS Digital said the outage lasted from 10.25pm on Wednesday evening until 5.30am the following morning. On Friday afternoon, the organisation said it was working still working with trusts and suppliers to ensure services are “fully restored”.

The incident is likely to have caused a lot of frustration at NHS Digital, which has overseen a multi-year programme to connect all NHS organisations to the HCSN. This overhaul was only completed in November last year.