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Is Plan B working?

Is Plan B working?


The Omicron variant of Covid is surging across the UK, but the government seems determined not to go beyond its famous “Plan B” – the restrictions we’re living with now.

Claudia williams, narrating:

Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, pressures on the NHS and whether the government is right to sit tight.


“Over the last10 days we’ve seen lots of pressure in London. That is now moving to the rest of the country, it’s showing up in the rest of the country exactly how it…”

Chris Hopson speaking on TalkRADIO

That’s a man called Chris Hopson speaking.

If you’ve had the news on in the past 48 hours, then you might have come across him. 

He’s the CEO of NHS Providers, the organisation responsible for NHS trusts in England. 

As CEO, Chris Hopson oversees negotiations between England’s 223 trusts, and the Department of Health.

And his role is now really important. 

Thanks to Covid’s latest variant, Omicron, London’s trusts were the first to come under significant pressure from spiking cases.  

That pressure is now spreading across the country.

“It’s, we think a minimum of about half a dozen trusts have had to call critical incidents so that they manage those staff absences…”

Chris Hopson speaking on TalkRADIO

As cases rise, so does the anxiety about our healthcare system. 

What will happen if many people are hospitalised with Covid, or, if so many staff are off sick and isolating that the system grinds to a halt? 

Experts believe there’s a 10 day lag between what we’re seeing in London, and what we’ll see elsewhere.

But despite this tidal wave of cases, Boris Johnson and his government are holding back on new restrictions. They’re focused on boosters. 

So, as we start the new year, with Omicron all around: is the British government’s strategy working?


Winter pressures in the NHS are nothing new.

“This is normally, the first week of January, is normally the busiest week of the year for the NHS and we know that there is a huge amount going on in terms of non-Covid care…”

Chris Hopson speaking on Sky News

You may remember the winter of 2017 / 2018, a shocking jump in death rates as a result of ambulance delays, and a lack of beds.

And that was before the pressures of a pandemic.

“We’re seeing larger numbers of patients come into hospitals with Covid-19, so we’re now at 14,200 patients in hospital, a week ago we were at 8,400 so that’s a 68 per cent increase.”

Chris Hopson speaking on TalkRADIO

The pressure is mounting. 

In response to the threat from Omicron, the NHS is busy setting up new “Nightingale surge hubs” at hospitals across the country.

These will be temporary structures that can house around 100 patients. 

Elsewhere, some trusts are considering whether gyms, or education centres, could be converted into nightingale sites.

“It’s a no regrets approach. What you don’t want to do is hit a point where you need to treat very large numbers of patients where you simply don’t have the facilities and capacity to do it.””

Chris Hopson speaking on Sky News

On Monday, the current number of people infected with Covid-19 in hospital was 14,210. 

They’re below the peak of last winter – 34,000. 

But beyond the numbers, the important question is whether patients in hospitals with Covid are there because of Covid, or because they are being treated for something else and just happen to be infected? 

That’s important because it shows a hospital case this winter isn’t the same as earlier on in the pandemic.


The latest data shows that a third of patients admitted to hospital in England with Covid are there because they were being treated for something else.

They just happen to have the virus too… they are, simply, “incidental” coronavirus admissions.

“In the past three waves, about two out of every three patients admitted were cases of severe disease. And right now we have only one out of four cases that is severe, a marked difference…””

Professor Salim Karim speaking on BBC News

And hospitals are not seeing large numbers of seriously ill older patients.

Although there have been outbreaks in care homes, Chris Hopson has found this doesn’t translate to hospital admissions.  

It’s encouraging news.

There’s growing optimism that London’s hospital trusts should be able to cope this week, a trend that the NHS is hoping will continue across the country.  It explains why the government is holding firm, and not bringing back the measures we saw in the last wave. 

For Chris Hopson though, it’s no time to relax. 

What impact will New Year’s celebrations have? And what about the return of schools? A lot is still uncertain. 

But for now – the situation is serious, but stable. 

The battle – between locking down and staying open, between boosters and variants – continues, with a slight advantage to us. 

It’s boosters 1, omicron 0.

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.