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NHS boss warns of ‘tough winter’ ahead as flu cases rise

Sir Stephen Powis at Windsor Castle (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Sir Stephen Powis at Windsor Castle (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The national medical director for NHS England has warned it “will undoubtedly be a tough winter” for the health service.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis said a rise in flu cases this winter could put pressure on the NHS, as it tries to deal with a cases backlog and Covid-19 patients.

He was speaking after receiving his knighthood from the Prince of Wales at a Windsor Castle investiture ceremony on Wednesday.

He told the PA news agency: “So we are obviously worried about this winter, it’s the first winter in a few years that we will have seen flu again, and flu in the last few weeks has been on the rise.

“We are seeing other infections coming back – Group A streptococcus is in the news at the moment but RSV, another virus that affects children, has been circulating.

“And we’re seeing all these infections a bit out of their usual pattern, a bit out of their usual season, because we haven’t seen them over the last few years because of the measures that have been in place to reduce the transmission of Covid.

“So we are getting a lot of infections back and we’re getting them at times that we wouldn’t necessarily expect them, but we’ve planned for that, we’ve expected it and our staff are working hard to manage it – but it will undoubtedly be a tough winter.”

He was knighted for his services to the NHS, particularly during the pandemic.

He said: “It’s a real honour to get this award, of course for everybody in the NHS it’s been the toughest three years of our professional careers.

“And I think clearly this is a personal award but I think it also reflects the magnificent work NHS colleagues, staff across the country, whether they’re nurses, doctors, paramedics, porters, lab technicians, I think everybody pulled together magnificently during the pandemic and really responded to the greatest healthcare emergency of certainly our generation and probably the last 100 years.”

He said he and William “talked about the work the NHS has done, the challenges everybody has had to face and to respond to over the last three years of the pandemic”.

He added: “(He) asked a little bit about whether I was staying in the job, which I am, and of course the focus at the moment is on recovering from the pandemic, so we still have Covid patients in hospital, Covid is just starting to go back up again as we get towards Christmas and into winter, and we’ve got the backlog of cases that has arisen out of the pandemic to deal with too.

“So it’s still an incredibly tough time in the NHS and I’m really conscious my colleagues have worked flat out for three years and they’re continuing to work flat out.”

He added: “All our NHS staff are continuing to work hard to ensure we continue to manage Covid and flu and other infections as they come back but also make sure everybody gets treated as quickly as possible as we recover and manage the backlog.”