People are being encouraged to get flu jabs as well as Covid vaccines in a “pressurised winter” for the NHS.
David Gallagher, executive director of place-based delivery for the Central and Tees Valley, North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, said asked about the coming months in a council meeting.
Councillor Stephen Harker asked: “Is it going to be worse than we’ve seen beforehand and if so, what are the consequences of that?”
Mr Gallagher replied: “From experience thus far, it does feel as though this is going to be a pressurised winter.
“The unknowns are what happens with Covid. There are some indicators that there’s another wave of Covid on the way. How severe that is is unknown.
“The other piece we always have in winter is flu. That’s why we’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” he told Darlington Borough Council’s health and wellbeing board.
“There’s a huge push to make sure people are vaccinated in the first place, but then people have a booster vaccination, especially the more vulnerable.
“But equally and as importantly, encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated against flu.”
He said there had been fewer respiratory infections in the last two years amid self-isolating, mask-wearing and social distancing.
“There’s a bit of an unknown in terms of what happens this time around,” he added
“We’re almost planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”
He said there was “complex and multi-faceted” pressure on front-line staff in hospitals and primary care which already meant “July felt like winter”.
He said: “This is unusually something that’s sustained across the year now. All organisations, all agencies, are still suffering from staff absence and issues linked to general sickness, some of which is tiredness and people being worn out, but also still linked to Covid.
“If any of us were under any illusion that Covid has gone, it hasn’t gone. We’re still dealing with it.
“There’s increased access and activity to both primary care, which is general practice, but also pharmacy, optometry and dentistry.
“While there are a lot more patients presenting, they’re presenting with more severe and more complex challenging issues as well, which just adds to the mix.
“We’re getting into the next wave of Covid boosters. We’re still dealing with the vaccination process and colleagues are busy dealing with that, as well as dealing with still catching the backlog that’s Covid’s caused due to some of the infection control challenges we’ve had.
“There’s still some delays in discharging patients from hospital. They’re not fit enough to go home. All this has impact on pressures on beds in hospitals.”
He said of staff challenges: “This is about getting the best out of the resources we’ve got. There is some additional funding for this.
“There is a sense that we need to get as much out of staff without flogging them. It’s about making more sensible use of staff.”
He said they were also working on hospitals spreading their workloads between them: “There’s a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to manage this.
“But it does feel… it’s going to be harder for staff and for the public.”
He said they were trying to “get ahead of the curve and put things in place to prevent people getting as ill”.
He told the meeting: “It’s fine trying to deal with the bath as it fills and overflows. There’s something about trying to turn the water mains down if we can. So lots to do.”