NHS boss praises staff on anniversary of ‘a year like no other’


To mark the anniversary of the first confirmed COVID patients being treated, NHS boss Sir Simon Stevens has paid tribute to NHS staff for their “extraordinary work in a year like no other”.

He met the team yesterday who cared for the country’s first two confirmed COVID patients, who were admitted to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, on January 31 last year.

Since then, hospitals have treated more than 320,000 patients with COVID, with around one person with the virus admitted to critical care every thirty minutes.

NHS staff have had to transform hospitals and how they work to ensure that all those who could benefit from critical care received it, increasing critical care ‘surge capacity’ by around a half.

In total, 26,476 patients with COVID have needed the most intensive level of care since the first case was diagnosed.

And on the busiest day of the pandemic, on 23 January 2021, there were a record 5,381 people receiving critical care – 65% higher than at any point in 2019 and 36% higher than in the first wave.

Millions more people have received NHS care and advice for coronavirus while staff continued to provide maternity, mental health, cancer and other urgent and emergency care.

Today, there are still more than 30,000 patients in hospital with COVID including more than 3,500 in beds with mechanical ventilation.

While caring for those with the virus, NHS staff are rolling out the largest vaccination programme in the health service’s history, administering more than 7 million vaccinations in just seven weeks.

Speaking ahead of a visit today to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, to meet the team who cared for the first patients, NHS England chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens said: “On behalf of families and patients across the country, we thank staff across the NHS for their extraordinary work in a year like no other.

“The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest public health emergency in NHS history, but in the past 12 months the NHS has achieved things many would have thought impossible – from quarantine centres and Nightingale hospitals in a matter of days after the pandemic was declared, to expanding hospitals’ critical care capacity by 50%, developing new Covid treatments and services, and delivering the first vaccination outside of a clinical trial.

“It is the vaccination programme, the biggest in NHS history, combined with the prospect of new therapies and treatments that offer us hope for the future.

“Our brilliant NHS staff have been on the frontline of the intense and relentless battle against coronavirus, but no health service could cope with the virus alone. They are part of this country’s greatest peacetime mobilisation, so we also thank other key workers, particularly in the care sector, the hundreds of thousands of volunteers, tens of thousands of staff who returned, the student nurses and medical students who stepped up and our colleagues in the armed services.

“We are also hugely grateful to all those who have played their part in cutting  infections and slowing the spread of the virus, which has undoubtedly saved many lives.”

NHS England and NHS Improvement declared a level four incident, the highest state of alert, a year ago on January 30 over the new disease that was infecting people in Wuhan, China.

The following day, two patients, a university student and their relative, were taken from York to Newcastle where they were cared for on the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s specialist High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID) unit.

Speaking ahead of Sir Simon’s visit, consultant Dr Matt Schmid, who led the team that treated them, said: “Looking back a year on, it is incredible to think that my team treated what would be the first of many tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients across the country. Although an unknown disease at the time, we were prepared to care for those first patients and experienced the beginning of huge changes to the way the whole health service delivers care and the way we worked.

“I am very proud of the standard of care we delivered to those first patients in January 2020 and of how we have maintained that standard under ever increasing pressure. Now, as then, we have met each COVID-19 patient with care and compassion in their darkest moments and as we have developed our knowledge of the virus, we have swiftly adapted to deliver the highest possible level of care.

“I want to thank my team and all of those helping to fight the virus across the country for the lengths they have gone to ever since we treated those first patients 12 months ago”.

In the early days of the pandemic the NHS set up quarantine centres for people returning from China in Arrowe Park, on the Wirral, and Milton Keynes.

At the peak of the first wave, NHS staff were caring for nearly 19,000 patients in hospital with Covid and this increased to more than 33,000 patients at the peak in January this year.

The Coronavirus Response Service and NHS 111 answered more than 18 million calls – a 19.6% increase on the previous year’s call volume – giving more people, needing urgent care, an alternative to attending A&E.

But the NHS was never a COVID only service, and at each point in the pandemic there have always been at least twice as many inpatients without COVID-19 being looked after as there were with COVID-19 in hospital.

Many GPs switched to providing some care virtually, which meant more than 280 million appointments could be carried out overall.

Nearly 19 million people continued seeking emergency help at A&E departments, which moved swiftly to split into COVID and non-COVID care zones to control infection.

Cancer care continued despite the pandemic. More than a quarter of a million people had potentially life-saving treatment and more than 1.3 million people with symptoms were checked.

COVID-secure surgery hubs were set up across the country and NHS England invested £160 million in COVID-friendly cancer drugs that can help cut the risk of infection.

The NHS made history when 90-year-old Maggie Keenan became the first person in the world to be vaccinated against coronavirus outside of a clinical trial when she received the Pfizer vaccine at Coventry Hospital on the 8 December 2020.

The health service here was also the first in the world to deliver the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca jab outside of a trial when Brian Pinker was jabbed in Oxford on 4 January 2021.

There is now a network of more than 1,400 vaccination services delivering life-saving jabs across the country.

Research conducted in the NHS also helped to find the first effective treatment for COVID, Dexamethasone.

Newcastle Hospitals reflects on a year since receiving the UK’s first COVID-19 patients:


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