Covid-19 measures have resulted in ‘negligible’ impact of annual flu on NHS in Wales

The annual flu season has had a negligible impact upon the NHS in Wales as it battles the Covid-19 pandemic, according to its chief executive.

Dr Andrew Goodall said record levels of flu vaccination, mask wearing and social distancing had meant that doctors were not seeing the usual numbers of people suffering from flu.

There had been fears the annual flu season would put even more pressure on the NHS in Wales which is dealing with a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Dr Goodall (pictured) also said the levels of flu in Wales were like the Southern Hemisphere earlier this year which had low rates of the illness.

“It does look at the moment that the flu season is very negligible, learning from the Southern Hemisphere experience but also recognising that we’ve got the highest vaccination levels on record for our flu programme which is a good sign of the public stepping forward to protect itself,” he said.

“We at least do think that there is going to be some mitigation of some of the pressures of not having a flu season on top of Covid-19 and obviously our wish to restore activities.

“I think inevitably the turn of the year will still be our greatest pressure points unfortunately because that has always happened in my experience in the NHS in Wales over the last 30 years or so.”

He told the Senedd’s health, social care and sport committee that work was ongoing in the health service to restore services which had been halted due to the first lockdown.

“It’s the hospital environment that we all need to focus on in terms of where we will see the greatest impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“We have in Q3 and Q4 wanted to ensure that as far as possible we can maintain a level of routine activities in hospital settings even for the winter period.

“One of the original assumptions was that we were going to see an impact of increasing Covid admissions from community prevalence.

“Where we are at the moment with our numbers being at the highest levels that we’ve seen has some implications for some of the choices that are needed to be made on a local basis.”

Health minister Vaughan Gething said the success of delivering the flu vaccination programme in Wales would help with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.

He also said herd immunity would be developed because more and more people would be vaccinated against Covid-19 and the virus would not be able to spread.

“You want herd immunity from vaccine but you get that by having enough coverage in the population, and that means that it’s unlikely to reproduce and cause harm,” he said.

“The reason why the UK lost the measles-free designation from the World Health Organisation is because of a fall-off in England in the MMR vaccination programme.

“That’s the risk of not having consistent public health messages and conspiracy theorists, that it has a real impact.

“The way that herd immunity was described in the early phase of the Covid pandemic, it was as if that was a deliberate strategy to allow coronavirus to roam unimpeded through the population with all the harm that would cause.

“That sort of Darwinian approach was never something this Government contemplated.”

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