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Covid: All adults over 18 to be invited for vaccines by end of week, NHS boss says

·4-min read
Sir Simon Stevens is due to step down from his role as NHS England chief executive next month (PA)
Sir Simon Stevens is due to step down from his role as NHS England chief executive next month (PA)

All adults aged over 18 will be able to book a Covid vaccine by the end of this week, the head of the NHS in England has said.

Speaking at a virtual annual conference of health leaders organised by the NHS Confederation, Sir Simon Stevens, who is stepping down from his role next month, said: “I expect that by the end of this week, we’ll be able to open up the national booking service to all adults aged 18 and above.”

Following the delay to the end of lockdown announced by Boris Johnson last night, Sir Simon said: “It is now very important that we use the next four weeks to finish the job to the greatest extent possible for the Covid vaccination programme, which has been a historic signature achievement, in terms of the effectiveness of delivery by the National Health Service with over 60 million doses now administered.”

He added that there remained a significant number of people aged over 50 and 40 who had yet to have both doses of the vaccine. Scientific modelling presented to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned a summer wave of the new Delta variant could result in 40,000 deaths.

“So as we sit here, right now, 91 per cent of people aged over 50 in England have had their two Covid vaccinations, which gives that fuller protection. But that still means that there are 1.3 million people for whom that opportunity stands. For people in their forties, we’ve got four-and-a-half million people who have had one jab but not yet their second jab. Given the decision announced last night to begin offering that now after eight weeks rather than after 12, those second jabs for people in their forties and above is a crucial part of what the next month needs to look like in the run-up to 19 July.”

He also revealed a plan for community services to deliver new therapies to treat Covid, including the use of neutralising monoclonal antibodies, which can be administered to patients who test positive in order to help fight the virus. Sir Simon said the NHS needed to “gear up” to deliver these sorts of treatments “within a three-day window from the date of infection” before a patient needs to be admitted to hospital.

It came as ministers are preparing to announce that care home workers will be required to have mandatory coronavirus vaccines. The government has held a consultation into the controversial proposal as a measure to protect the most vulnerable from contracting Covid-19. It was also reported that ministers are preparing to go further and make vaccinations a condition of employment for all NHS workers - a move opposed by unions and likely to trigger a legal challenge.

Sir Simon, who will be taking a seat in the House of Lords after leaving his role at NHS England, said the health service was aiming to have vaccinated two thirds of adults with two doses by 19 July.

He said the NHS was now in a much better position than previous waves of infection, with just one per cent of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients.

Sir Simon said that across England “the age distribution has really flipped as a result of vaccination” from 60 per cent of Covid patients being over 65 to 70 per cent of patients being younger people “whose prospects are much greater”.

He told the NHS Confederation, which represents more than 500 health and care organisations, that he had allocated an extra £100m to help tackle the problem of long Covid, with £70m to expand existing clinics and £30m to develop new services for younger people affected by the condition.

He said that it was estimated that up to seven to eight per cent of children and young people affected by Covid will go on to develop long Covid symptoms.

On the growing NHS waiting list, Sir Simon said the NHS had already started to recover some ground and that the service was experienced in tackling waits, adding: “When the health service is given the backing and gets the tools it needs, we can deliver.”

In a clear message to ministers as he prepares to leave the role, Sir Simon said staff in the health service “need fair and appropriate pay, that’s obvious”, and on social care as well as clearing waiting lists, Sir Simon said the NHS needed more investment.

Asked what advice he would offer his successor Sir Simon said the new chief executive “should continue to make the weather on some of the big debates the health service needs to be a part of”, adding “we need to have a view on inequalities, social care etc. Don’t be afraid to stand up and speak up for what is right.”

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