NHS ambulance trust warns of 'mounting pressure' on service

Meeting hears 19 per cent of RBWM adults have not had vaccine

The South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) told a Royal Borough meeting this week that the 'pressure is mounting' on its services as COVID infections climb. 

The Royal Borough is also doing a 'huge amount of work' to find out why there are still 19 per cent of adults without their first or second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, an outbreak and engagement board heard yesterday (Monday). 

Infections have been climbing in recent weeks as the NHS continues to administer jabs and booster shots to those 12 and above, although the numbers are well below what was being recorded in the January peak.

Monday's meeting heard updates from Frimley Health CCG representative Caroline Farrar and SCAS operations manager Andy Battye, who covers the East Berkshire and South Bucks area for the ambulance trust.

Mr Battye told councillors that the pressure on his service has been 'mounting', with staff off sick and self-isolating adding to the challenges.

"Every month has been up 10 per cent greater demand, with the exception of August," he said. "The pressure has really been on."

Mr Battye urged people to only phone an ambulance if it is an absolute emergency and advised people to transport others to hospital by car if they are able, in order to free up valuable ambulances. 

The latest data for the Royal Borough, which covers the period November 1-11, shows an infection rate of 368 per 100,000 people, with 557 positive cases recorded.

The council's public health consultant Anna Richards told the meeting these figures put the borough 'at a similar level' to the south-east average, but slightly above the England average.

She also revealed how there are still some adults out there who have not had their first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"COVID remains an extremely serious disease and I would urge everybody who is eligible to get their vaccinations," Ms Richards said.

"There are 19 per cent of adults who have not had their first or second dose, so there are still individuals out there who could be vaccinated and it is really important that they are.

"We have been doing a huge amount of work to understand what might be behind these decisions. We have worked incredibly hard with NHS colleagues to make [the vaccine] as accessible as possible.

"It is also about having conversations with these residents as well to understand what the barriers are."

The council's lead member for health Councillor Stuart Carroll (Con, Boyn Hill) added that it was important the council continued its 'myth-busting' work to ensure people are not swayed by untruths about the jab.

He said that he had heard of instances where people had caught COVID and assumed they had become immune from the virus and would not need the vaccine - adding that this is entirely false. 

Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) said that his residents had reported 'huge problems' within the NHS, adding it has taken some three or four days to speak to their GPs.

"It is not the GPs' fault, it is just the huge pressure they are under," he said, adding that the use of the non-emergency NHS 111 number, pharmacies and walk-in facilities were vital alternatives to relieve pressure on the health service.

Mr Battye said that GPs are returning to seeing people face-to-face once again, although some are continuing the use of phone calls to limit the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable people. 

Cllr Werner also asked Mr Battye whether the current pressure problems within the health service were permanent, or COVID-enforced.

"Whatever comes out of COVID won't be the same as before we went into COVID," the SCAS operations manager said.

"People need to understand that we will return to normal, but it will be what they deem a 'new normal'. There will be changes [in] behaviours, procedures, expectations.

"But one of the positives that I have seen come out of COVID is that community spirit returning that we used to have years ago, people have really started caring about their neighbours and other people."

He added: "COVID will be one of the 'norms' that we will deal with and I suspect that you will have your flu and COVID vaccine every year.

"The difference will come in that we will be able to carry on our lives without having to be conscious of masks and it will become the norm of how we do things."

Earlier in the meeting, Frimley CCG representative Ms Farrar said that staff within the Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust were reporting how it is 'the busiest they have ever seen it'.

"And it is only November - not the traditionally busy months of January and February," she said. 

Ms Farrar added that some elective operations for patients 'just cannot go ahead' due to rising COVID admissions putting pressure on critical care services.

With regards to vaccinations, she said that the programme is continuing with booster jabs being administered, as well as first and second doses to those aged 12 and above. 

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