'We're under strain': GP warns of NHS struggles amid Omicron surge
- Credit: Russell Hearn
A leading north London doctor says he is buoyed by local vaccination efforts, but concedes health services are struggling amid staff shortages and delayed appointments from Covid-19.
Russell Hearn, 39, helped administer 4,500 jabs – including overnight – during a 24-hour “jabathon” on Friday and Saturday, as clinical director of the Lordship Lane vaccine centre in Haringey.
Praising health workers including volunteers and medical students, the GP said the NHS had responded “amazingly” to the national call to ramp up Covid-19 jabs amid the surge in Omicron cases.
However the senior lecturer for King’s College London said that coronavirus had left “the whole system under strain”.
“GP practices are struggling, the number of people off sick because of being positive with Covid at the moment is high. That leaves the people remaining [in the health service] doing a lot of work,” Dr Hearn told the Ham&High.
“Because a lot of people with Covid aren't that unwell, a number of my colleagues are doing remote work, telephone consultations from home, even though they've got Covid and are having to isolate.
“I know from the depth of my heart all colleagues are doing as much as they can – the same as in hospitals and secondary care. But it is a really worrying time and it's a really tricky situation we're finding ourselves in.”
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Dr Hearn said that in areas where normal work levels cannot not be maintained due to the focus on Covid, certain appointments are being pushed back and GPs are triaging patients according to the severity of their case.
He acknowledged “frustration” among residents over not being able to see their GP in the same way.
“There's a knock-on from Covid on everything, whether that’s economic, the running of small or large businesses... everybody has been disrupted by Covid.
“The health service in the same way has been disrupted, so that routine care for diabetes, blood pressure, strokes, we are going to see that paused now and kick in later.
“We'll work even harder to catch up with that when we get the capacity to do so.”
Amid uncertainty over whether new restrictions will be introduced by the government over the festive period, Dr Hearn said individuals need to make “responsible choices” and be as cautious as possible.
Urging people to get vaccinated for the first or second time, or for their booster, Dr Hearn encouraged those who are unsure whether to get a Covid jab to book an appointment at a vaccination centre so they can discuss their options.
The Morris House GP’s comments came as around one in four local authorities in the UK recorded their highest rate of new Covid-19 cases since mass testing began in summer 2020.
Public health data shows 21 of the 32 local authorities in London now have record Covid-19 case rates, with the capital accounting for the top 10 highest rates in the UK and 20 of the top 25.
Against this surge of cases, on Saturday the mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared the wave of Omicron a “major incident”.
The declaration will allow authorities to work together to reduce service disruption and give more time to deliver booster jabs.
Mr Khan said: “The surge in cases of the Omicron variant across our capital is hugely concerning, so we are once again declaring a major incident because of the threat of Covid-19 to our city.
“The Omicron variant has quickly become dominant, with cases increasing rapidly and the number of patients in our hospitals with Covid-19 on the rise again.”
Georgia Gould, chair of London Councils and the leader of Camden's local authority, said: “The rapid spread of Omicron across our city is of huge concern.
“Local councils have stepped up and played a vital role in supporting their communities through the pandemic, I know they will continue with these efforts but we cannot do this alone.”
Public health data shows Camden (36%) and Westminster (34%) among the 10 local authorities with the lowest uptake of booster jabs in the UK for adults. In Barnet the figure stands at 48%, and in Haringey it is 41% – compared to a national high of 76%.