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Britain needs to reintroduce coronavirus rules to prevent a "brutal" Easter as pressure mounts on the NHS, health leaders have warned.
NHS bosses issued the stark warning as they pointed out that the service is facing the same pressure this spring as it would in the midst of a "bad winter."
The government has been urged to review its Living with Covid plan as high rates of Covid-19 infections are having a "major impact" on the healthcare system.
The NHS Confederation fears the public could become confused by the government messaging and said it may “mislead and discourage them to take steps to reduce transmission, contributing to the very high rates of Covid -19", reports Manchester Evening News.
The membership body, which represents healthcare organisations, called for “mitigating actions” to help the NHS which is grappling with 20,000 Covid patients, high rates of staff absences, full hospitals and severe demands on emergency care.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The brutal reality for staff and patients is that this Easter in the NHS is as bad as any winter.
“But instead of the understanding and support NHS staff received during 2020 and 2021, we have a Government that seems to want to wash its hands of responsibility for what is occurring in plain sight in local services up and down the country.
"NHS leaders and their teams feel abandoned by the Government and they deserve better.”
The organisation said that in the last week alone 20 emergency departments in England have been forced to turn patients away as they issued “diverts” due to being too full.
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The NHS Confederation called into question whether plans to tackle the record backlog of care are realistic.
It called for stronger messages to the public on how to reduce transmission, including wearing the best possible face masks, and urging people to get vaccinated.
There also needs to be medium-term plans put into place, including better ventilation in public spaces, it added.
Meanwhile, ministers should reconsider asking the NHS to foot the bill for Covid-19 tests for staff – estimated to cost the NHS “several hundred million pounds” which is being taken away from patient care.
Mr Taylor said that the nation was “behaving as if this pandemic is over, but it is not over in relation to the challenges facing the health service”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “There is a lack of awareness of engagement pressures the health service is under and it’s particularly felt in hospitals at the ambulance service, but it’s actually across the system as a whole.
"Because although we’re much better at dealing with Covid, with fewer people dying and ending up in intensive care, it is still a disease that puts immense pressure on the health service.
"So we have a situation in our health service now which is as bad as any winter, even though we’re approaching Easter and it’s really important that we understand that this has happening."
A spokesperson for Department of Health and Social Care said: “The success of our vaccination and antivirals programmes alongside increased public understanding on managing risk means we can start living with Covid – with public health guidance and free testing focused on groups who are most at risk from the virus.
“We are incredibly grateful to NHS staff and we have set out our plan to tackle the Covid backlog and deliver long term recovery and reform, backed by our record multibillion-pound investment over the next three years.
“We are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by 2024, there are over 4,300 more doctors compared to last year, and we are investing hundreds of millions in growing the workforce.”
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