NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens confirmed on Sunday the NHS is “under extreme pressure”. His statement comes as millions of over-70s and clinically extremely vulnerable are scheduled to receive their coronavirus jab invitations from this week.
The NHS boss said the health service was now administering 140 jabs a minute, despite increasing pressure.
He made the remarks on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, warning about the alarming rate Covid-19 patients were being hospitalised.
He said: “The facts are very clear and I’m not going to sugar coat them.
“Hospitals are under extreme pressure and staff are under extreme pressure.
“Since Christmas Day we’ve seen another 15,000 increase in the inpatients in hospitals across England.
“That’s the equivalent of filling 30 hospitals full of coronavirus patients and, staggeringly, every 30 seconds across England another patient is being admitted to hospital with coronavirus.”
He described the overwhelming of the service as a “unique event” in its history, adding that a “small number” of patients had to be referred to hospitals in other regions when their closest hospital was full.
Sir Simon said: “I think this is a unique event in our 72-year history.
“It’s sort of become glib to talk about this as the worst pandemic in a century but that is clearly correct.”
However, he commended healthcare professionals for their swift work during the mass vaccination drive.
Official data from Sunday showed that more than 3.8million first doses of the jab had so far been given in the UK.
Praising other entities for their collaboration during the immunisation drive, Sir Simon added: “This is a huge team effort.
“This is bringing together the NHS, the St John’s Ambulance volunteers, the Royal Voluntary Society, we are vaccinating not just in health centres and hospitals, but in village halls and rugby clubs and cathedrals and shopping centres and race courses, so everybody is coming together to get this done and I think we’re off to a very strong start.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also congratulated “our NHS heroes” for ensuring jabs were being delivered on time.
He said: “Where an area has already reached the vast majority of groups one to two, they can now start opening up the programme to groups three to four. We are working day and night to make sure everyone who is 70 and over, our health and social care workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable are offered the vaccine by the middle of February, and our NHS heroes are making huge strides in making this happen.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Mr Marr the Government’s vaccination plan was to offer every adult in the UK their first dose by September.