Coronavirus UK: NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens says claims hospitals are empty are ‘lies’


Boris Johnson has told Covid deniers to ‘grow up’ and NHS boss Sir Simon Stevens slammed their ‘lies’ about hospitals being empty – saying the ‘nonsense’ could kill people and ‘nothing is more demoralising’ to medics.

Speaking together at a Downing Street press conference, the PM and Sir Simon Stevens said downplaying the seriousness of Covid was an ‘insult’ to frontline workers.

At today’s press conference, Boris Johnson said: ‘The kind of people who stand outside of hospitals and say ‘Covid is a hoax’ and this kind of stuff, I do think they need to grow up.

‘You heard eloquently from the head of NHS England the pressure the NHS is under, and we’ve all got to do our bit responsibly to protect it.

‘For the vast majority of the country, that means making sure we stay at home and protect the NHS. For people who are getting invited to get a vaccine; go and get the jab.’

Asked what he would say to people who do not believe Covid is real or think warnings about how busy the NHS is are not true, Sir Simon added: ‘Let’s just be completely straightforward about it – when people say that it is a lie.

‘If you sneak into a hospital in an empty corridor at nine o’clock at night and film that particular corridor, and then stick it up on social media and say ‘this proves the hospitals are empty, the whole thing is a hoax’, you are not only responsible for potentially changing behaviour that will kill people, but it is an insult to the nurse coming home from 12 hours in critical care having worked her guts out under the most demanding and trying of circumstances.’

He added: ‘There is nothing more demoralising than having that kind of nonsense spouted when it is most obviously untrue.’

It comes as the PM  announced he is bringing in the Army to bolster the UK’s vaccination drive and claimed the NHS will be able to give 200,000 jabs every day by next Friday as part of ambitious lockdown-ending plans.

With the roll-out of vaccines the only light at the end of the tunnel, the Prime Minister today reassured the public there are enough doses available to get all the top priority groups immunised by mid-February.

He also pledged to offer every care home resident a jab by the end of January and announced a new national online booking system that is hoped will be speed up the process.

Sir Simon praised the UK for its ‘strong start’ but both he and the PM admitted there will be ‘difficulties’ and ‘bumps along the road’ as they scramble to immunise millions of people per week.

The UK is aiming to vaccinate 13million people by mid-February, which could mean 3million a week. Only 1.5million have had a dose meaning there are another 11.5million to dish out in 39 days, or around 300,000 a day.

And for people who get sick before they can get a vaccine, Mr Johnson announced two routine arthritis drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – would be used to treat critically-ill patients after scientists found they can cut the risk of death by up to a quarter.

On another day of coronavirus chaos:

  • Matt Hancock insisted vaccines will mean this is the last national lockdown as the Health Secretary tried to strike an optimistic tone and set out four criteria for lifting restrictions;
  • Drivers were turned away from countryside beauty spots in Derbyshire while police grilled parents with a pushchair in Birmingham city centre as forces across the country launch an extreme Covid crackdown;
  • Elderly Britons are refusing the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine because they’d rather ‘wait for the English one’ and failing to turn up for appointments as ministers scramble to turbo-charge the jab’s roll out; 
  • Care home bosses said it would be a ‘grave mistake’ to use their empty beds as overflow for packed hospitals as the number of people being admitted with Covid-19 surges; 
  • The number of NHS staff off sick or self-isolating due to coronavirus has almost quadrupled since September with almost one in 10 staff now off sick, leaked figures reveal.

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister

NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens (left) and Boris Johnson (right) today rounded on Covid deniers and said it was ‘lies’ and ‘nonsense’ to claim that hospitals aren’t busy with coronavirus patients

There are now more than 30,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 across the UK, more than there has ever been, and more than half a million people have been diagnosed with the virus in the past 10 days.

Darent Valley Hospital in Kent today upgraded its alert level and said it might have to stop offering critical care because it is now ‘overwhelmed’.

Kent has been at the heart of the second wave’s resurgence since a new, super-infectious variant of the virus emerged in the county and ripped through the South East.

LONDON’S HOSPITALS ‘TO BE OVERWHELMED IN TWO WEEKS’

London’s hospitals will be overwhelmed by Covid-19 in less than two weeks even in a ‘best’ case scenario, an official briefing reportedly warns.

Medical director at NHS London Vin Diwakar provided the worrying analysis to medical directors of the capital’s hospital trusts over a Zoom call this afternoon.

Even if coronavirus patients grew at the lowest likely rate and capacity is increased – including opening the Nightingale – the NHS would still be short 2,000 general, acute and ICU beds by January 19, the HSJ reports.

Three scenarios are laid out in the report – ‘best’, ‘average’ and ‘worse’. These account for the impact of four per cent daily growth, five per cent growth and six per cent growth respectively.

Growth for beds on January 5 was 3.5 per cent, with the rate at 4.8 per cent for ICU beds, the report claimed. 

It may be the canary in the coal mine as other hospitals say they are approaching crisis levels with patient numbers surging across the country after infections exploded over the Christmas period.

In London, NHS bosses have warned hospitals could be packed with coronavirus patients in less than two weeks even in a best case scenario, leading to health bosses scrambling to find extra capacity in care home and mothballed Nightingales.

It comes just a week after a crowd of people not wearing masks were filmed chanting ‘Covid is a hoax’ outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London on New Year’s Eve while the city was in a Tier 4 lockdown.

At the time Dr Matthew Lee, a medic who filmed them and posted it online after his shift at the hospital, said the behaviour was ‘disgusting’.

Dr Lee said: ‘Hundreds of maskless, drunk people in huge groups shouting ‘Covid is a hoax’, literally outside the building where hundreds are sick and dying.

‘Why do people still not realise the seriousness of this pandemic?’

He later added: ‘I’m disgusted but mostly heartbroken. I wish people could see the amount of Covid-19 and deaths in hospitals, and the sacrifices that healthcare workers make.

‘This week alone has been so tough. Their ignorance is hurting others. I really wish people would keep themselves safe.’

If further proof was needed of the strains being put on the NHS, a hospital in Kent today warned it might have to stop accepting critical care patients.

The Darent Valley Hospital, near Dartford, declared a ‘CRITCON level four’ alert on advice from NHS England which means it is ‘overwhelmed’, the Health Service Journal reported.

The alert level is described as rare and its official description says it means ‘Resources overwhelmed. Possibility of triage by resource (non-clinical refusal or withdrawal of critical care due to resource limitation)’.

Resource limitation means the hospital does not have enough staff, beds or other equipment to deal with the demands of its patients.

It could mean the hospital has to ship critically ill patients out to other hospitals in the region.

Darent Valley Hospital in Kent today upgraded its alert level and said it might have to stop offering critical care because it is now 'overwhelmed'

Darent Valley Hospital in Kent today upgraded its alert level and said it might have to stop offering critical care because it is now ‘overwhelmed’

NHS figures show the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, had 268 patients with Covid-19 on January 5, the latest data.

Leaked reports published by the HSJ showed that 84 per cent of its inpatients were people with coronavirus and none of its 20 intensive care beds have been free all week.

Mr Johnson’s mammoth jab pledge — which critics fear he won’t be able to deliver because it is over-ambitious — came moments after Britain recorded 1,162 Covid deaths in the second worst day of the pandemic. Department of Health data shows only April 21 had a worse death toll than today, when 1,224 victims were declared. 

Experts fear the daily number of Covid deaths may rise further, because of the spiralling number of infections in the community. But in a slight glimmer of hope, cases dropped compared to last week as health bosses posted 52,618 infections — down 6 per cent from the same time last week.   

Matt Hancock insists jabs will mean this is the last national lockdown – as he sets out four criteria for lifting restrictions

Matt Hancock today insisted vaccines will mean this is the last national lockdown as he set out four criteria for lifting restrictions.

The Health Secretary tried to strike an optimistic tone as he faced questions over the delay in bringing in the brutal curbs to control the mutant Covid strain as he gave evidence to MPs this afternoon.

Asked if this would be the ‘last of the lockdowns’ due to the availability of vaccines, he said: ‘I do, yes.’

And he also laid out the elements that will need to fall into place to ease the brutal curbs – that cases and deaths are falling, vaccines are working, and there is no ‘major’ new variant causing trouble.

Health committee chair Jeremy Hunt challenged Mr Hancock that by the end of last week it was known that the number of hospital patients was above the first wave, while SAGE had advised that the R number would not stay below one while schools were open.

But the Cabinet minister insisted the true picture only emerged over the weekend and the government ‘acted fast’ by announcing the measures on Monday.

He blamed a ‘fall off’ in the number of people being tested over Christmas saying it meant the scale of the problem was ‘less clear’.

Giving a glimpse of the route out of the crisis, he told the MPs: ‘We’ve set out the conditions that we’ll look at for the relaxation of the restrictions.

In tonight’s Downing St press conference Brigadier Phil Prosser, the army officer and Iraq veteran put in charge of speeding up the UK’s sluggish vaccination programme, insisted the military would use ‘battlefield techniques’ to ramp up the roll-out, adding: ‘My team are used to complexity and building supply chains at speed in the most arduous and challenging conditions.’

Ministry of Defence chiefs were instructed to devise the plans to hit the PM’s lofty target of vaccinating all over-70s, care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers and extremely vulnerable adults of all ages to end the endless cycle of lockdowns by mid-February.

The NHS operation, considered the biggest vaccination drive in British history, will involve more than 100 soldiers next week with almost 1,500 reserve troops on standby. And as many as seven mass vaccination centres are set to open in England to aide the roll-out, set up in locations including sports stadiums and London’s ExCeL centre. 

So far the UK’s vaccination scheme has been plagued by supply and staffing shortages, logistical problems and bureaucratic barriers that have strangled its scale-up.

Hugely ambitious claims about the Government’s vaccination programme will cause worry from some corners after it failed to live up to promises on its swab-testing scheme.

Matt Hancock had promised the programme would hit 100,000 tests per day by the start of May – and claimed at the time that it did – but it later emerged the Department of Health had posted out tens of thousands and counted them, and that the number never breached six figures until three weeks later on May 21.

And Boris Johnson promised in the summer that NHS Test and Trace would scale up to get everyone who visited a major testing centre their results within 24 hours, but this target has never been achieved. 

Missing the mark on vaccinating could have far worse consequences, with Britain stuck in lockdown until the most vulnerable people can all be immunised.

Today’s figures mark the tenth day in a row Britain has recorded more than 50,000 new infections, as the virus continues to spread across the country.

It takes at least two weeks for someone who has been infected with the virus to develop symptoms bad enough to become hospitalised, and eventually sadly die from the disease, meaning the deaths are expected to rise at a later date.

People in their 20s now have the highest rate of coronavirus infection in England, with 0.8 per cent of the population infected.

Public Health England figures show young adults – between the ages of 20 and 39 and, to a lesser extent, people in their 40s – are the worst affected groups but case numbers are surging in every age group.

In the week ending January 3 there were 843 positive tests per 100,000 people among 20 to 29-year-olds, compared to 813 per 100,000 in people in their 30s. 

The figures rose 40 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively, with the 20s age group overtaking the 30s as the one with the highest rate. The rate for people in their 40s was 738 per 100,000, the third worst and up a quarter in a week.

Some of the lowest rates of infection were in children, ranging from 194 in under-fives to 435 in teenagers, but they were still rising despite school holidays. 

Only 1.5million have received at least one dose so far — meaning there are another 11.5million to dish out in 39 days, or around 300,000 a day

Only 1.5million have received at least one dose so far — meaning there are another 11.5million to dish out in 39 days, or around 300,000 a day

In tonight's Downing St press conference Brigadier Phil Prosser (right), the army officer and Iraq veteran put in charge of speeding up the UK's sluggish vaccination programme, insisted the military would use 'battlefield techniques' to ramp up the roll-out. Pictured with Sir Simon Stevens, boss of NHS England (left), and the PM

In tonight’s Downing St press conference Brigadier Phil Prosser (right), the army officer and Iraq veteran put in charge of speeding up the UK’s sluggish vaccination programme, insisted the military would use ‘battlefield techniques’ to ramp up the roll-out. Pictured with Sir Simon Stevens, boss of NHS England (left), and the PM

Boris Johnson hails two life-saving arthritis drugs that cut the risk of death for ICU patients by 24%

Boris Johnson tonight hailed two ‘life-saving’ arthritis drugs after a major British trial revealed they cut the risk of death in critically-ill Covid patients by nearly a quarter.

The PM — who stumbled several times as he tried to pronounce them — said the anti-inflammatory drugs tocilizumab and sarilumab would be made available through the NHS with immediate effect, ‘potentially saving thousands of lives’.

He told tonight’s Downing Street press conference: ‘I’m pleased to tell you today British scientific research has now contributed to the creation of more new life-saving treatments that have just passed rigorous clinical trials.

‘In particular, tocilizumab and sarilumab, and they’ll shortly be on everybody’s lips, which have been found to reduce the risk of death for critical ill patients by almost a quarter an they’ve cut time spent in intensive care by as much as 10 days.

‘These life-saving drugs will be available through the NHS with immediate effect, potentially saving thousands of lives.’

In one of the biggest medical breakthroughs of the pandemic, scientists found the drugs can boost the survival odds for patients already taking dexamethasone, a steroid which British scientists discovered could reduce death in the sickest Covid patients over summer.

Matt Hancock also described the discovery as ‘yet another landmark development in finding a way out of this pandemic’.

The results come from the REMAP-CAP trial which involved 3,900 people with severe Covid in 15 countries. The drugs, marketed under the brand name Actemra and Kevzara, are administered via an intravenous drip for an hour.

The biggest increase was seen among people in their 60s, where the positive test rate rose 47 per cent from 308 per 100,000 people to 454.

Care homes say it would be a ‘grave mistake’ to use their empty beds as overflow for packed hospitals as the number of people being admitted with Covid-19 surges.

The NHS is making plans to commandeer spare care beds across the country to help release pressure on hospitals as their wards fill up with coronavirus patients.

More than 30,000 people are currently in hospital with Covid across the UK and the number is expected to soar after more than 300,000 people tested positive in the last week of December.

But the Government is blocking the move to send patients to care homes because it doesn’t want to pay and fears patients could spread Covid to the homes’ extremely vulnerable residents, the Health Service Journal reports.

The National Care Forum warned that care homes are facing their own ‘phenomenal’ pressures and cannot cope with NHS patients too. 

It argued calls to protect the NHS must not ignore the ‘massive potential impact’ on care homes.

The caution is a worrying throwback to the first wave when hospitals were permitted to discharge patients into care homes without testing them for Covid.

These patients, bosses warned, seeded deadly coronavirus outbreaks in the homes which contributed to the sector’s devastating death toll of 19,157 in 2020.

The Department of Health in October wrote to care homes asking them to try and make space to accept non-resident patients being discharged from hospitals.

It wanted to set up 500 of these designated areas, sectioned off from the main home and staffed by different workers, in case hospitals became overloaded in a second wave of coronavirus.

Ministers wanted to make sure every local authority in England had at least one of these overflow units at its disposal.

But now that hospitals face fast-rising patient admissions and coronavirus runs rampant around the UK again, the Government is reportedly reluctant to put the plans into action.

The Health Service Journal reported that the Treasury is holding back on the idea because it doesn’t want to foot the bill – most care homes are run by private firms.

John Elphinstone receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, administered by practice nurse Marianne Stewart, at Pentlands Medical Centre in Edinburgh

John Elphinstone receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, administered by practice nurse Marianne Stewart, at Pentlands Medical Centre in Edinburgh

Five hospitals didn’t have any intensive care space last week

Five intensive care units in England had no room for new patients last week, official figures show.

NHS England surveillance figures underlying the scale of the winter pressures show occupancy stands at 79.6 per cent — but only because health chiefs have scrambled to find an extra 1,000 beds.

Around 3,716 of 4,672 ICU beds were occupied across England’s NHS hospitals in the week ending January 3, on average.

For comparison, the overall occupancy figure was 83.3 per cent in the same week of last year — when only 3,652 beds were available, on average.

The five NHS hospitals where ICU units were 100 per cent full last week were: 

  • North Middlesex University Hospital Trust
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust
  • Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust
  • Portsmouth Hospitals University Trust
  • Royal Papworth Hospital Foundation Trust, Cambridge

Another 34 trusts, mainly scattered across London and the South East — which have been hit hardest by coronavirus in the second wave, were at least 90 per cent occupied. NHS England includes 133 trusts in the figures every week.

It comes as Matt Hancock today insisted vaccines will mean this is the last national lockdown as he denied ministers dragged their feet over imposing it – claiming Christmas had muddied the data.

The Health Secretary tried to strike an optimistic tone as he faced questions over the delay in bringing in the brutal curbs to control the mutant Covid strain as he gave evidence to MPs this afternoon.

Health committee chair Jeremy Hunt challenged Mr Hancock that by the end of last week it was known that the number of hospital patients was above the first wave, while SAGE had advised that the R number would not stay below one while schools were open.

But the Cabinet minister insisted the true picture only emerged over the weekend and the government ‘acted fast’ by announcing the measures on Monday.

He blamed a ‘fall off’ in the number of people being tested over Christmas saying it meant the scale of the problem was ‘less clear’. 

But Mr Hancock also sounded a confident note on the prospects for life returning more towards normal. Asked if this would be the ‘last of the lockdowns’ due to vaccines, he said: ‘I do, yes.’ 

Boris Johnson dramatically unveiled the lockdown for England in a TV statement to the nation on Monday night.

He said he had been confronted with stark figures by medics and scientists showing that the NHS was at risk over being overwhelmed within weeks unless he acted. 

They included news that more than 80 people had provided positive samples on a single day just after Christmas, and while hospitalisations and rolling weekly cases had also spiked.   

At the hearing this afternoon, Mr Hunt said that the government knew last week that the number of hospital patients were above the first wave, and SAGE had said the R rate would not drop below one with schools open.  

‘The cases went up by 57 per cent in just one week,’ he said. ‘Did we have to wait until Monday or could we not have taken that decision on Thursday or Friday of the previous week?’

Two elderly Britons are pictured outside Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, which will open as a mass Covid vaccination centre next week

Two elderly Britons are pictured outside Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, which will open as a mass Covid vaccination centre next week

Elderly residents are pictured queuing for a Covid vaccine this morning in Hemel Hempstead

Elderly residents are pictured queuing for a Covid vaccine this morning in Hemel Hempstead

Sir Keir Starmer told broadcasters at a vaccine centre in east London: 'This is the light at the end of the tunnel, we all have to make it work whatever our other differences'

Sir Keir Starmer told broadcasters at a vaccine centre in east London: ‘This is the light at the end of the tunnel, we all have to make it work whatever our other differences’

Birmingham’s Covid jab supplies could run out by tomorrow, MPs say

Birmingham’s leaders have claimed supplies of the city’s Covid vaccine could run out by tomorrow, as deliveries are yet to arrive.

Stocks of the Pfizer vaccine will ‘run out’ tomorrow, they said, adding lorries carrying the Oxford jab are yet to reach the city. 

In an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, council leader Ian Ward called for ‘urgent clarity and reassurance’ that more deliveries would arrive in time.

It was also signed by the city’s ten MPs, including Sutton Coldfield’s Conservative Andrew Mitchell.

But tonight the mayor for the West Midlands Andy Street accused the politicians of spreading ‘misinformation’ during the pandemic, saying there was ‘no threat’ of supplies running out.

‘Deeply disappointing to see elected politicians misleading the public over the vaccine situation in Birmingham today, at a time when we should all be pulling together to get through this crisis,’ he said, firing shots at the group.

‘Here is the truth: 1) New Pfizer vaccination stock has been ordered, and is in sufficient supply. It has always been the plan that @uhbtrust would order more as they reached the end of current supplies, and there is no threat of them running out tomorrow.

‘2) I have personally spoken to the vaccinations minister @nadhimzahawi who has reassured me that the new AstraZeneca vaccine will be arriving in the city tomorrow.

‘As I hope is now clear, the idea that Birmingham will have no vaccines from tomorrow onwards is completely false. Misinformation that causes undue concern is not what the public need in the middle of a pandemic.’ 

Mr Hancock replied: ‘We act fast. When we saw the very sharp rise in rates that weekend then we acted on the Monday. 

‘The week preceding it actually the case data included the fall off in the number of people coming forward for testing over Christmas so the data was less clear.

‘As the data came through in the post-Christmas period it became extremely clear. None of these are easy decisions. The health consequences of the decision are extremely clear… It is a heavy balance on both parts of the ledger. ‘

Mr Hancock said it was ‘impossible’ to put a percentage on the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed in the next two weeks – amid fears that services London are in danger of being swamped.

He told MPs: ‘It’s impossible to put a number on it, and I don’t mean that just as a cop-out.’

He said that as pressure on the NHS grows ‘it is more stretched in delivering the services that people need’ and pointed to the cancelling of routine elective procedures in the second peak.

Elsewhere during the sessions, Mr Hancock said he was ‘as confident as you can be’ that deaths will start falling after 13million of the most vulnerable have been given doses of vaccine – scheduled to happen by mid-February.

But he warned that there would be a lag of potentially weeks, and the number of hospital patients could fall significantly more slowly.

Mr Hancock said the priority groups targeted for vaccines by mid-February accounted for around 85 per cent of deaths.

He told the MPs: ‘I am as confident as you can be, based on all the clinical advice that I have seen and all my own reading of the data, that the number of deaths in this country will fall – for any given number of cases – once the vaccine is rolled out to the vulnerable groups.’

Mr Hancock went on: ‘Hospitalisation levels I would also expect to fall, but ironically not as quickly as deaths in the first instance.

‘The reason is that people that are slightly younger spend longer in hospital, often because they survive when somebody who is very old and frail might not survive for as long.’

The Health Secretary also underlined that coronavirus is likely to become a seasonal problem like flu, and would probably mutate in a similar way so new vaccines were needed every year.

New head of Army vaccine taskforce vows to use ‘wartime’ tactics to make sure jab can get ANYWHERE in England as he unveils ’21 quick reaction teams’ to meet ‘unparalleled operation’

The British Army officer leading Boris Johnson’s effort to deliver hundreds of thousands of coronavirus vaccines per day pledged to use combat techniques to get them to the needy as fast as possible. 

Brigadier Phil Prosser, Commander of Military Support to the Vaccine Delivery Programme, said his team would use ‘our extensive operational and logistic experience’ to deliver vital supplies across the UK. 

The commander of the British Army’s 101 Logistic Brigade will lead soldiers distributing the drugs across the country in a bid to get the lockdown eased as soon as possible.

He joined Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference tonight after Britain recorded 1,162 coronavirus deaths in the second worst day of the entire pandemic.

The Prime Minister used the televised event to claim the NHS will be able to give 200,000 jabs every day by next Friday as part of ambitious lockdown-ending plans. 

Brig Prosser, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, said: ‘It is my role to deliver combat supplies to UK forces in time of war.

‘My team are used to complexity and building supply chains at speed, in the most arduous and challenging conditions…

‘We aim to deliver vaccine as soon after it is supplied as possible, not leaving vast quantities in the warehouse – it needs to be in arms not on shelves.’

He also revealed that there are  21 ‘vaccine quick reaction force’ containing military medics ‘able to deploy anywhere in England at short notice’ if there are problems with keeping up the rate of immunisations.

Brigadier Phil Prosser, Commander of Military Support to the Vaccine Delivery Programme, said his team would use 'our extensive operational and logistic experience' to deliver vital supplies across the UK.

Brigadier Phil Prosser, Commander of Military Support to the Vaccine Delivery Programme, said his team would use ‘our extensive operational and logistic experience’ to deliver vital supplies across the UK.

It is not the first time Brig Prosser's unit has been brought in to help with the pandemic. The Aldershot-based brigade, which includes logistical, engineering and medical units, was called in to help distribute PPE like gloves, masks and gowns to NHS hospitals in March.

It is not the first time Brig Prosser’s unit has been brought in to help with the pandemic. The Aldershot-based brigade, which includes logistical, engineering and medical units, was called in to help distribute PPE like gloves, masks and gowns to NHS hospitals in March.

The 101 is known as the Iron Viper because its main war function is supporting the 3rd Division, known as the 'Iron Division, which is the Army's 'high readiness' force

The 101 is known as the Iron Viper because its main war function is supporting the 3rd Division, known as the ‘Iron Division, which is the Army’s ‘high readiness’ force

Brigadier Phil Prosser, the commander of the 101 Logistic Brigade (pictured in Downing Street today) , will lead soldiers distributing the drugs across the country in a bid to get the lockdown eased as soon as possible.

Brigadier Phil Prosser, the commander of the 101 Logistic Brigade (pictured in Downing Street today) , will lead soldiers distributing the drugs across the country in a bid to get the lockdown eased as soon as possible.

Members of the 101 Logistic Brigade deliver a consignment of medical masks to St Thomas' hospital on March 24

Members of the 101 Logistic Brigade deliver a consignment of medical masks to St Thomas’ hospital on March 24

Iron Viper leader who served in Iraq 

The army officer put in charge of speeding up Boris Johnson’s sluggish vaccination programme is an Afghanistan and Iraq veteran ‘crisis management’ expert who leads a unit known as the ‘Iron Viper’.

Brigadier Phil Prosser, the commander of the 101 Logistic Brigade, will lead soldiers distributing the drugs across the country in a bid to get the lockdown eased as soon as possible.

 

The married Welshman joined Boris Johnson at a Downing Street press conference tonight.

It is not the first time Brig Prosser’s unit has been brought in to help with the pandemic. 

The Aldershot-based brigade, which includes logistical, engineering and medical units, was called in to help distribute PPE like gloves, masks and gowns to NHS hospitals in March.

Brig Prosser trained as a mechanical engineer and studied at Cranfield University before taking an MBA at the Open University. He previously served in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).

According to his LinkedIn page is is an ‘experienced leader’ who is skilled in crisis management, data analysis (and) risk’. 

He is also a keen cyclist and describes himself as a ‘retired runner’ as well as a fan of the Scarlets rugby team, based in his native Llanelli.

With the roll-out of vaccines the only light at the end of the tunnel, the Prime Minister today reassured the public there are enough doses available to get all the top priority groups immunised by mid-February. 

He also pledged to offer every care home resident a jab by the end of January and announced a new national online booking system that is hoped will be speed up the process.

Department of Health data shows only April 21 — in the midst of the first wave — had a worse death toll than today, when 1,224 victims were declared.

Experts fear the daily number of Covid deaths may rise further, because of the spiralling number of infections in the community. But in a slight glimmer of hope, cases dropped compared to last week as health bosses posted 52,618 infections — down 6 per cent from the same time last week.

Ministry of Defence chiefs were instructed to devise the plans to hit the Prime Minister’s lofty target of vaccinating 13million — including over-70s, care home residents, NHS staff and extremely vulnerable adults of all ages — and ending lockdown by mid-February.

The NHS operation, considered the biggest vaccination drive in British history, will involve more than 100 soldiers next week with almost 1,500 reserve troops on standby.

So far the UK’s vaccination scheme has been plagued by supply and staffing shortages, logistical problems and bureaucratic barriers that have strangled its scale-up. It has meant that only 1.3million Brits across the UK have had the jab since it launched a month ago.

Figures today showed that the NHS in England has now managed to inoculate almost 1.1million people since the mass immunisation drive began. The programme saw more than 300,000 doses dished out in the final week of the Pfizer-only plan, up 27 per cent in a week.

Ministry of Defence chiefs were instructed to devise plans to distribute the vaccines evenly to the most vulnerable within the PM’s target of immunising them by mid-February. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace last week said there were 250 six-man teams ‘standing ready’ to deliver 100,000 doses a day, if there was a request for more boots on the ground support from the Army. 

Brigadier Prosser told today’s press conference: ‘I have found this logistic operation to be unparalleled in its scale and complexity and I say this having served on operations around the world. 

‘To give you some impression of the work that has been done, in the 30 days this programme has been in operation we have delivered over 1.26 million doses of vaccine, hundreds of millions of consumable items and established 769 sites.

‘That’s the equivalent to setting up major supermarket chain in less than a month, and next week we will further increase our footprint by another 20 per cent.’

As many as seven mass vaccination centres are set to open in England to aide the roll-out, set up in locations including sports stadiums and London’s ExCeL centre. But critics have warned the target is over-ambitious and said the Prime Minister should not make promises he won’t be able to meet.

It emerged last night that guidance had been sent to doctors explaining the jabs should be their ‘top priority’ – with other ‘non-essential’ activities postponed, potentially for weeks. NHS England has already advised surgeries to focus on the delivery of the vaccine by prioritising jab appointments over anything else. 

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