Coronavirus: Two statements that show how precarious the NHS is

Two different comments on the state of the NHS have confirmed the precarious state it is in amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)

It is no secret that the coronavirus outbreak has left the NHS in a precarious position, with many concerned it will not be able to cope with the influx of patients due to the virus.

While concerns are widespread, experts appear divided on whether Britain’s health service will be able to weather the storm, with some reassuring the public that the NHS can cope, while others warn it will be unable to handle the crisis.

The conflicting views reveal the true knife-edge faced by the NHS in such unprecedented times.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said he believes the health system has the capacity to cope and the recent “lockdown” would lead to a “plateau” in the number of cases.

Total coronavirus cases in the UK. See story HEALTH Coronavirus. Infographic PA Graphics

He said: “So we are going to have a very difficult few weeks, particularly in hotspots – London for instance.

“But we think, overall, with the capacity which is rapidly being put in place across the country, that whilst the health system will be intensely stressed, particularly in areas of London, it won’t break.

“Perhaps in about three weeks we hope these current measures will start flattening that curve and start bringing numbers down.”

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However on the same programme, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents care trusts, warned that London hospitals are facing a “wicked combination” of an “explosion” in demand and “unprecedented” staff sickness rates of up to 50%.

He said while critical care capacity has been expanded between five and seven times, hospitals are seeing a “continuous tsunami” of demand.

“They are struggling with two things,” he said.

“The first is the explosion of demand they are seeing in seriously ill patients. They talk about wave after wave after wave – the word that’s often used to me is a continuous tsunami.”

London's ExCel centre is being made into a temporary hospital - the NHS Nightingale hospital - to help handle the influx of COVID-19 patients. (PA)

Hopson added: “We are now seeing 30%, 40% and indeed in some places 50% sickness rates as staff catch the virus or are in vulnerable groups or have to self-isolate.

“That’s unprecedented absence rate.

“So what we have got is a really wicked combination – trusts trying to deal with a lot more demand than they have ever had before with a lot fewer staff than they have had before.”

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