NHS is under ‘sustainable pressure’ despite Covid warnings, health minister says

Health minister Edward Argar has claimed the NHS is under “sustainable pressure” despite the alarm being raise by a major doctors’ union urging the government to introduce measures to control the spread of Covid.

It comes after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, suggested the country could see 100,000 cases a day, but resisted demands to implement “plan B”, which includes advice to work from home, making face masks mandatory and vaccine passports.

On Thursday evening, the British Medical Association (BMA) insisted that the “time is now” for further measures and accused ministers of being “wilfully negligent” for ignoring NHS leaders’ pleas for the implementation of “plan B”.

And on the previous day the NHS Confederation — representing healthcare providers — called for a “plan B plus” and stressed that the health service was “stumbling into a crisis” and “right on the edge”.

But defending the government’s approach, the health minister Mr Argar told Sky News on Thursday: “Well we continue as you expect to look at all the data.

“The NHS while under huge pressure at the moment, and I pay tribute to all those working in it, is that it’s sustainable pressure at the moment.”

Quizzed on how bad the situation in the health service would have to be before the government moved to “plan B”, he added it would not “be appropriate to set an arbitrary figure, X number of infections, X number of hospitalisations”.

Mr Argar also dismissed reports in the Daily Telegraph that officials in the Cabinet Office were discussing a “plan C” to control the spread of the virus, including a return to a ban on household mixing indoors.

A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “The focus is very much on measure that can be taken without a major economic impact, so keep shops, pubs and restaurants open but looking at other ways to reduce the risk”.

But the minister told Sky News: “That’s not something I’m aware of, I checked it out and I’m told that is not a story with foundation.

“Of course, as a government, you look at – as we’ve done with our plan B – alternatives and ways that you might, if you needed to, start easing that pressure.

“The specifics of that and what was mooted in it as I understand it, as I only glanced at it I’m afraid on my way in this morning, about limiting household mixing, things like that … is that it isn’t something that is being actively considered.”

Official figures showed 49,139 new Covid cases recorded on Tuesday, with 869 hospitalisations and 179 deaths. The total of 954 deaths over the past seven days was up 21 per cent on the previous week, while the seven-day total of 6,074 hospital admissions was up 11 per cent.

Elsewhere, a former chief scientific adviser told BBC Newsnight that the government’s current strategy was not likely to work. Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “Am I worried? Yes. It’s very, very delicately poised. We’ve got a lot of cases at the moment.

“Winter is coming, flu is probably coming. It’s not a good place to be. The evidence is that the current measures are probably not holding things.”

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