The risks to the NHS come from three sides. First, Omicron has grown faster than any variant seen to date – including the initial spread of Covid-19 in March 2020. The UK Health Security Agency reports that Omicron cases are doubling every other day in the world. Most parts of the UK. A certain percentage of newly infected people will need hospital treatment, even if Omicron causes less severe illness than Delta. Let’s say the risk of hospitalization with Omicron is half that of Delta, although analysis from Imperial College London suggests that may be optimistic. With a variant that doubles every two days which only gives us two days more. Regardless of the possible percentage of people with Omicron who will need NHS care, the absolute number of people seeking care will also double every other day.
Because it takes seven to 14 days between infection and the need to be hospitalized, this rapid increase in demand for NHS services won’t be visible immediately – likely not until Christmas – but it will. Modeling by the Pandemic Influenza Science Panel on Modeling, an operational subgroup – which reports to the Sage committee – suggests that by the time we see this impact, four doublings may have passed. This means much higher levels of pressure on the NHS that we can do nothing about if we wait for hospitalizations to increase before taking action.
Last Thursday, Sage estimated that without further reducing transmission (beyond Plan B), there would be at least 3,000 daily hospital admissions in England (equivalent to the first wave in 2020), and that could be much worse even than last January. . So the question is not whether it will be bad for the NHS, but whether it will just be appalling or catastrophic.