As many as 60,000 people could die from flu this winter and a combination of seasonal viruses and COVID-19 could leave the NHS “unable to cope”, according to a report.
The stark warning was made by scientists who say the flu season could be particularly deadly but the enhanced flu jab programme and rapid tests for flu could help to mitigate the risks.
COVID-19 restrictions meant that many respiratory viruses were not able to spread last winter as they normally would and this has concerned some virologists who say population immunity to seasonal respiratory illnesses might be compromised.
As people socialise more these viruses will spread again.
The new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences says flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) hospital admissions and deaths could be twice that seen in a “normal” year and could coincide with an increase in COVID-19 infections.
Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, chair of the Expert Advisory Group which wrote the report, said: “There are four main challenges: firstly a surge in respiratory viruses could cause wide-spread ill health and put pressure on the NHS.
“Secondly, we’re dealing with a third wave of COVID-19 and multiple outbreaks and the NHS has got to catch up with the backlog that it has accumulated over the last 15 months or so, and that’s going to be a real challenge.
“Thirdly, the NHS is already under pressure, so is likely not to be able to cope with these winter challenges going forward.
“Finally the worse physical and mental health within the UK population due to the pandemic.”
He added: “Society as a whole will have learned from the last 15 months that it isn’t acceptable that (we had) all these respiratory viruses washing around in the winter and nearly closing our National Health Service.
“If there are things we should do top prevent transmission we should do that. Even if it means wearing masks and respecting each other’s space.”
He added: “We really do deserve to have a change in the way we operate as a society to stop the annual continual pressure on the health service created by all these viruses and that just means a change in behaviour.”
And due to the current wave of infections the NHS could face difficulties trying to catch up on the backlog of care – with more than five million people in England on the waiting list.
The report highlights other problems that the health service faces going into winter including staff shortages and reduced bed capacity.
On top of this, people putting off seeking help for illness could also lead to a rise in support needed for conditions such as asthma, heart attack and stroke this winter.
They also called for the expansion of COVID-19 testing to also include tests for flu and RSV – for instance if GPs were able to quickly confirm whether a patient has flu they would be able to prescribe their antiviral medication sooner which means that the person’s illness would be reduced, and lessen the burden on the NHS.
Professor Dame Anne Johnson, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Expert Advisory Group member, added: “We’re not saying we’re about to have the worst winter ever, we’re saying we have got a bunch of uncertain things that could hit us in winter that we need to think about mitigating now.”
She added: “I hope we will take forward some of these behavioural changes as a society. When you’re sick, stay out of the way because that’s actually when you’re most infectious, get your test – if you have got COVID you need to continue with that careful self isolation.”
Dame Anne said that the flu figures are “uncertain” and the 60,000 figure is an “an unlikely worst case scenarios”, adding” flu is horribly unpredictable”.
Professor Azra Ghani, Expert Advisory Group member, added: “We have never experienced this type of thing where society has really shut down and really reduced transmission to this extent. It’s very difficult to know what impact this will have.
“It’s really just a warning to say ‘we can do something about this , this isn’t an inevitable, we can put measures in place and reduce the impact’.”
The report’s authors think the flu season could come earlier than usual because of the lack of immunity but say this could actually be beneficial as there is more pressure on the NHS further into the winter.
Sir Patrick Vallance commissioned the report to examine the challenges facing the NHS this winter.
In addition to a deadly winter flu surge the study warned the health service is already under pressure and will struggle to cope with these additional winter challenges as it faced a shortage of beds and trained staff.
But the reports authors stressed the predictions are based on a worst case scenario with no interventions.
A faster vaccine rollout, the autumn booster campaign and increased testing capacity for COVID and flu will help significantly in reducing the impact of these extra pressures on the NHS.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget
Jeremy Hunt is considering a last minute further cut to public spending to boost the tax giveaway in Wednesday’s budget.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, out now, set out how Number 10 and 11 have spent recent days finding as many different ways of raising future revenue as possible to increase the size of Wednesday’s tax cuts.
National insurance could be cut by 2p again in the budget if the chancellor succeeds in finding the right mix of revenue raising measures and spending cuts.
Currently spending is due to rise 1% above inflation after next year. However, if this was cut to 0.75% above inflation, that would raise £5-6bn.
The chancellor would hope to resist questions about where he would cut, saying he is doing an efficiency drive and decisions would be outlined at a future spending review post election.
The decision on whether to cut future spending was live in the Treasury as recently as Friday, and this morning the chancellor was arguing about the importance of finding efficiencies.
This is likely to boost Labour’s charge that the government is “maxing out the credit card” to keep its own supporters on side.
However, most Tories in government believe this is a necessary trade-off to allow the party to go into the next election presenting themselves as the low-tax party.
Some senior Tories disagree, however, worrying that the public is more worried about the state of public services than tax cuts.
The budget is likely to have cuts or the abolition of non-dom status, which could raise £2-3bn, plus other small loopholes closing generating a few hundred million in revenue.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s Podcast also reveals how delaying Contaminated Blood compensation payouts has helped deliver tax cuts.
In January, the Treasury was worried those payments might reduce the amount the chancellor could spend before he reached the borrowing limits from his fiscal rules.
However, the inquiry will not report until later and the government is resisting calls for interim payouts.
Christian Horner ‘absolutely’ expects to remain in charge after claims of inappropriate behaviour
Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said he “absolutely” expects to remain in charge for next week’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The team principal told Sky Sports F1 that Red Bull is a “very strong team” after reigning world champion Max Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez came first and second in Saturday’s Bahrain Grand Prix – the first race of the season.
He said: “We have got tremendous support, tremendous partners and great shareholders behind us as well.
“You don’t achieve this kind of result by not being united.”
Horner was asked if he expects to still be in charge in Jeddah after a tumultuous week to which he replied: “Yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
The 50-year-old watched the podium ceremony with his wife, former Spice Girl Geri Horner, after hundreds of WhatsApp messages reported to have been part of Red Bull’s recent probe were leaked.
Horner has always denied the claims.
The couple, who married in 2015, walked hand-in-hand and shared a kiss at the Grand Prix but Horner later admitted the past few days had “not been pleasant”.
“I have the support of an incredible family, an incredible wife, an incredible team and everybody within that team,” he said.
“And my focus is going racing, winning racing and doing the best I can.
“It was a day about starting the season in the best possible way. My focus is on this team, my family, my wife and racing.”
Earlier, Formula One world champion Max Verstappen suggested his boss is “probably a little bit distracted” following the reports.
Asked about the leaked messages after he took pole position in qualifying on Saturday, Verstappen said: “It’s not our business.
“When I look at how Christian operates within the team, he has been an incredible team boss, so absolutely from the performance side of things, you can’t even question that.
“So that’s what I am also dealing with. I speak to Christian a lot, and also of course throughout the weekend here he is fully committed to the team.
“He’s also here for the performance, of course probably a little bit distracted, but like I said before, we just focus on the performance things and that’s how we all work together.”
The messages were leaked to numerous media organisations and F1 team principals from an anonymous email account, but have not been confirmed as genuine.
Horner subsequently released a statement, saying: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.
“I respected the integrity of the independent investigation and fully co-operated with it every step of the way.
“It was a thorough and fair investigation conducted by an independent specialist barrister and it has concluded dismissing the complaint made. I remain fully focused on the start of the season.”
Ahead of this weekend’s race, president of the FIA, Mohammed ben Sulayem said any complaint lodged with its compliance officer would be investigated but it had not received one relating to Horner’s situation and would not “jump the gun”, according to the Financial Times.
“It’s damaging the sport,” ben Sulayem told the newspaper. “This is damaging on a human level.”
Horner had been questioned for eight hours by a lawyer on 9 February.
Red Bull confirms grievance dismissed
In a statement, Red Bull said: “The independent investigation into the allegations made against Mr Horner is complete, and Red Bull can confirm that the grievance has been dismissed.
“The complainant has a right of appeal. Red Bull is confident that the investigation has been fair, rigorous and impartial.
“The investigation report is confidential and contains the private information of the parties and third parties who assisted in the investigation, and therefore we will not be commenting further out of respect for all concerned.
“Red Bull will continue striving to meet the highest workplace standards.”
Read more from Sky News:
FIFA president rules out use of blue cards
Top women’s clubs approve £20m Premier League loan
Horner has said his wife has been “very supportive” during the process. He also revealed he had been “overwhelmed” by messages of goodwill from within the sport.
He has been Red Bull team principal since they entered Formula One 19 years ago and is the longest-serving boss on the grid.
During that period he has overseen the team win seven drivers’ world championships and six constructors’ titles.
Chancellor tempers tax cut expectations as £800m tech package to free up public service workers’ time revealed
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has tempered expectations of tax cuts in Wednesday’s budget as he announced an £800m package of technology reforms designed to free up time for frontline public sector workers.
As part of Treasury reforms, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence will be deployed to cut MRI scan times by a third.
The department said the changes have the potential to deliver £1.8bn worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.
Follow latest: PM rails against ‘extremist forces’
In a statement, the chancellor said: “We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking more spending buys us better public services.
“There is too much waste in the system and we want public servants to get back to doing what matters most: teaching our children, keeping us safe and treating us when we’re sick.
“That’s why our plan is about reaping the rewards of productivity, from faster access to MRIs for patients to hundreds of thousands of police hours freed up to attend burglaries or incidents of domestic abuse.”
Darren Jones, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said the announcement amounted to “spin without substance”.
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt told The Sunday Telegraph that he “won’t take any risks” after previous speculation he may cut income tax.
The newspaper said the chancellor is due to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday evening to make a final decision on whether a 2p cut is affordable.
Mr Hunt said that bringing down the current tax burden is a “long path” and that the financial forecasts setting out how much so-called “headroom” he has to meet his fiscal rules had “gone against us”.
According to The Sunday Times, the Office for Budget Responsibility told the chancellor on Wednesday that he has £12.8bn of headroom to play with – more than £2bn less than the figure the Treasury is said to have previously been basing its calculations on.
Mr Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last economic set piece from the Conservative government before the next general election.
The tax burden is reaching record levels, with it expected to rise to its highest point since the Second World War before the end of this decade as the country looks to pay back heavy borrowing used for support during COVID-19 and the energy spike in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
No 10 and No 11 are said to be weighing up if it is possible to administer such a cut or whether to reduce national insurance contributions further, having sliced it by two percentage points in the autumn statement.
The cut in November did not reduce taxation for pensioners – a key voter demographic for the Tories – as they do not pay national insurance.
Mr Hunt is said to be preparing to raise £300m by changing the preferential tax regime for holiday lets in the budget.
Another £500m may be raised by introducing a levy on vapes.
He also is thought to be considering abolishing the non-dom status as a potential way of raising revenue.
Non-domiciled status allows foreign nationals who live in the UK, but are officially domiciled overseas, to avoid paying UK tax on their overseas income or capital gains.
Mr Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty has previously enjoyed non-dom status.
Watch Jeremy Hunt appear on Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips on Sky News from 8.30am.
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