NHS England’s chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has paid tribute to nurses, doctors, therapists and countless other NHS workers who had overcome their “toughest year”, as well as cleaners and non-medical staff such as carers, volunteers and care home workers in a New Year message recorded at a vaccination centre. Saying they had “brilliantly” cared for 200,000 severely ill Covid-19 patients.

He said that by late spring he expected the NHS to have offered vaccinations to all vulnerable people.

His message comes as a new mutant strain, believed to be around 70% more transmissible than the previous form of coronavirus, is spreading through the UK, leaving the NHS caring for more patients than it was during the April peak.

On Monday, the UK recorded its highest daily increase in Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, with 41,385 positive results.

Sir Stevens said:

Sir Simon Stevens NHS back in the eye of the Covid storm

“This has been the toughest year we can remember, it’s certainly true across the health service that has been responding to the worst pandemic in a century.

Many of us have lost family, friends, colleagues and – at a time of year when we would normally be celebrating – a lot of people are understandably feeling anxious, frustrated and tired.

And now again we are back in the eye of the storm with a second wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe and, indeed, this country.”

The NHS England chief executive said the pandemic had shown “sometimes the worst of circumstances bring out the best in people”.

“We have certainly seen that in my colleagues across the health service – the fantastic intensive care nurses and doctors, the paramedics, the therapists, the porters, the cleaners, the entire team across the national health service who have so brilliantly looked after 200,000 severely ill coronavirus patients and many others with all the other conditions the health service is here to care for.

As they have done so, that has been boosted by the superb work of neighbours and volunteers and carers and care home staff – and quietly, at the same time, the advances we continue to see in medical science.”

Sir Simon suggested that scientific breakthroughs that saw the NHS become the first health service in the world to deliver a coronavirus vaccine outside of a trial may offer some hope for the future.

“We think that by late spring with vaccine supplies continuing to come on stream we will have been able to offer all vulnerable people across this country Covid vaccination.

That perhaps provides the biggest chink of hope for the year ahead.

“But that will only be possible thanks once again to the dedication and the commitment of countless NHS staff – our brilliant GPs, pharmacists, nurses and many others.

“Therefore now is the right time, I believe, on behalf of the whole country to record our enormous debt of gratitude and our huge thanks.”

His comments come on the day that the patients who received the first vaccinations three weeks ago will receive their booster jab.