“Tough”, “challenging”, “pressured”. Just some of the words that ministers and health chiefs keep using to describe the long winter ahead of us.
Covid cases and deaths may be on the decline, but the NHS is still feeling the full impact of the virus, with NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard warning things will “get worse before they get better.”
Pritchard believes it would be “unfair” to ask staff to continue to work at this level of intensity “forever”.
“We are facing really significant pressures: we have ongoing pressures from Covid,” she said, citing 6,864 patients in hospital with Covid on Monday alone.
The NHS is also experiencing record hospital waiting times, she added. More than 5.8 million patients were waiting for routine surgery in England at the end of September, official figures show, the highest figure since August 2007.
Politicians have also been sounding caution. Health secretary Sajid Javid was already warning the NHS was facing pressures in mid-October.
“Usually winters are tough for the NHS, but I think this winter will be particularly tough,” he said in the House of Commons.
The best way we can protect the NHS is by protecting ourselves and each other – so rather than feeling helpless, here’s what you can actually do to help.
Get your vaccine
If you haven’t already get your first two doses of the vaccine this should be the top of your agenda. Getting the Covid-19 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from catching the virus. The number of deaths and serious symptoms from Covid have been on the decline since the vaccination rollout.
Covid variants such as Delta can be transmitted easily, which is all the more reason to get vaccinated – the more people spread the virus, the more likely we are to see other variants take hold. Vaccination at least weakens this possibility.
Get your booster
Getting the booster jab (if you’re eligible) is another way of protecting yourself from Covid-19, especially in light of research that shows coronavirus booster jabs give more than 90% protection against symptomatic infection in adults aged over 50, according to a study by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, said: “We know that in older age groups, protection from the first two vaccines is beginning to wear off, leaving millions that need extra protection as we head into winter. That is why it is critical that you come forward for your booster as soon as you become eligible so we can drive down hospitalisations and deaths over the winter.”
Who can get a booster jab?
• Those living in residential care homes for older adults
• All adults aged 40 years or over
• Frontline health and social care workers
• All those aged 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe Covid-19, and adult carers
• Adults living with people who have immunosuppressed diseases
Booster jabs are now being given at walk-in vaccination sites across England, with no appointment needed making it easier for you to get protected.
Wear a mask where it’s encouraged
Wearing a mask is no longer mandatory. The current official government advice encourages “personal risk-based judgments” – meaning the onus is on the individual to assess the situation and choose whether or not to wear one.
But Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, stresses that we should still be wearing them and should have never stopped wearing them, because the pandemic hasn’t ended.
Mask wearing is primarily to protect others from the spread of Covid, but evidence also suggests masks protects the wearer. If in doubt, mask up. And yes, that includes in all health settings, from hospital to your GP’s surgery.
Keep indoor spaces ventilated
Ventilation means introducing fresh air into indoor spaces whilst removing stale air. When you let fresh air into indoors spaces you can help remove air that contains virus particles. Covid-19 particles are released when someone with the virus breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes.
Opening windows and doors in your home is a simple way to keep a constant flow of fresh air. Or if you’re with a big group if people staying outdoors can limit the spread of Covid-19.
Isolate if you have symptoms
It should go without saying, but if you have possible symptoms of Covid, take a PCR test as soon as possible and self-isolate until you get the result. If it’s positive, you will need to self-isolate for 10 days.
If you live in the same household as someone with Covid-19, you should also stay at home and self-isolate. People who are double jabbed or under the age of 18 will no longer be required to self-isolate if they’ve been in close contact with someone outside their household. who has tested positive for Covid-19.
For full guidance on self-isolating, read the government guidelines here.