NHS chief hails ‘extraordinary team effort’ in face of Omicron

NHS chief Amanda Pritchard has today thanked health service staff and volunteers for their “extraordinary team effort” in the face of Omicron.

The NHS England chief executive, who took up the post in July, praised the efforts of doctors, nurses, therapists, porters and other staff who have pulled out all the stops to recover services impacted by COVID.

And she praised all those involved in the NHS COVID vaccination programme which has delivered more than 7 million jabs, including boosters, in the last 10 days alone.

Vaccination will continue on Christmas Day and Boxing Day at sites across the country as part of the national mission to protect as many people as possible in the face of the threat from Omicron.

In her first Christmas message as NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard said: “I want to start by thanking you for the phenomenal work you have done – and continue to do – to care for our patients, communities and colleagues. We’ve had another extraordinary 12 months.

“From January when hospitals admitted 100,000 patients with COVID in a single month, while also delivering the world-class NHS covid vaccination programme; to receiving the George Cross during the summer, marked by a service at St Paul’s, pulling out all the stops to make progress on recovering backlogs of care; and now facing the uncertainty of Omicron and winter pressures.

“The pandemic is the greatest challenge in the NHS’s history and the defining challenge of our professional lives”.

In the last few months, the pandemic took another twist with the introduction of the Omicron variant, and NHS staff and colleagues in the care sector and other key workers have had to respond to a new national mission.

Pritchard continued: “In the last couple of weeks I have seen, again, the incredible NHS spirit as you work at record speed to turbo-charge the NHS COVID-19 booster programme and protect communities against the Omicron variant.

“There are so many amazing stories I hear every day of colleagues going above and beyond to keep our patients and communities safe – from working round the clock, and battling Storm Arwen to deliver jabs.

“These examples and many more demonstrate that we won’t rest until everyone who needs us is protected”.

The NHS Chief Executive went on to praise the public for their response in recent months to the new variant.

“The public response to the national mission of Omicron has been incredible. Since September, more than 18 million people have booked in for a booster and more than 25 million people have had their top-up. And in just over a year since we launched the biggest and fastest vaccination programme in health service history, more than 108 million COVID-19 vaccinations have taken place.

“We know that first and second doses absolutely still matter and teams are working hard – in partnership across our communities – to ensure no one gets left behind. In December, already more than one million first and second doses have been given.”

“If you would like to help with this extraordinary team effort, we’re urging former staff, students and volunteers to go online and find out how to get involved.”

While the NHS COVID Vaccination Programme has been a huge success, Pritchard stressed her praise for staff who have continued to deliver other services, from mental health to cancer, as well as in A&E, which saw record attendances at times during the year.

“Alongside the NHS vaccination programme, staff have continued to be there for our patients who need care.

“Our colleagues answered the highest number of 999 calls for any November on record.

“The NHS mental health crisis support lines, which were fast tracked during the pandemic, have managed between 180-200,000 calls per month with less than 2% of calls resulting in A&E attendance.

“More than 450,000 people have started treatment for cancer since March last year and there were more than 225,000 referrals for cancer in October alone.

“And the NHS has pulled out all the stops to tackle the impact of Covid on other services, including performing more than 3.5 million more diagnostic tests so far this year compared to the same period last year (Jan to Oct).”

This year the NHS has also rolled out new, revolutionary drugs, and implemented innovative treatments that will have huge benefits to patients with a multitude of diseases, showing it is still a world-leader in healthcare.

“While maintaining and expanding routine care and fighting the pandemic, we’ve rolled out and accelerated some of the most advanced treatments in the world, including for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, type one diabetes, sickle cell disease, stroke, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis and hepatitis C.

“As well as these treatments, we’ve introduced the revolutionary GRAIL test for cancer, which spots the disease before symptoms even occur, and we are delivering extra services for conditions that really matter to people’s ability to live well, like long covid and childhood obesity”.

Pritchard finished her annual address to staff and patients, by thanking NHS staff who have worked relentlessly this year, and last year, and will continue to do so throughout Christmas and into next year.

“I know it is a worrying time professionally and personally for everyone, and that many colleagues are drained after such a gruelling period. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the NHS is nothing without its incredible staff. This time, thanks to NHS staff and volunteers, we are armed with the protection offered by first, second and booster doses.

“Colleagues will be working exceptionally hard throughout the Christmas season across all our services, but I do hope you are able to spend some time with your loved ones.

“My very best wishes to you, and to your families and friends, who I know provide such vital support throughout the year.”