Luton waiting lists at a ten-year high as health officials predict big pressure on NHS in months ahead
A new Covid variant of interest is accounting for a larger and larger proportion of Luton cases, which appears to be more transmissible
Waiting lists are at a ten-year high as health services in Luton tackle "a backlog of illness which have progressed and become more severe", according to a winter projections health report.
"Those cases will require extra resource as they're more complex having progressed during the pandemic when routine NHS activity was reduced," said the report to the borough council's scrutiny health and social care review group on November 24.
"Pandemic measures have led to record low rates in other respiratory illness. But, with lockdown measures lifted, a rise in flu and flu-like illness is expected.
"Data is beginning to show that rates are already on the increase, and there may be epidemic levels of non Covid-19 respiratory and gastrointestinal illness in vulnerable groups this winter.
"These factors suggest that Luton will experience high pressure and demand for NHS and social care services in the months ahead," warns the report by consultant in public health Dr Paul Nelson.
There has been an increase in the number of deaths from Covid in the town during the last three weeks.
"It can be seen that we're currently just above the east of England average and rates are rising," explained a separate public health report.
"Case rates are currently at 432 per 100,000, with the highest rates in the 11 to 18 age range.
"Luton has ‘enduring case rates’, defined rates that remain high and above the national average for long periods of time.
"The causes of these rates are mainly because of the wider determinants of health than any omission in pandemic response.
"The borough has a slightly different profile of cases, often having a delayed and more enduring peak."
So far 139,966 Luton residents have received at least one dose of the vaccines up to November 14, added this report.
"At 66.2 per cent of all those aged 12 and over, this is the 20th lowest uptake out of 181 UK upper tier local authorities.
"Rates of Covid-19 have risen during the autumn driven largely by school aged children.
"There's a new variant of interest which is accounting for a larger and larger proportion of Luton cases, which appears to be more transmissible."
The council's interim director of public health Sally Cartwright told the review group: "We need to remain cautious.
"Our vaccination rates in Luton are lower than other boroughs," she said. "We've looked at modelling going into the winter months.
"This isn't massively conclusive because models are difficult to get the right information within them to predict.
"We also have winter pressures coming in through a backlog of illnesses and (people) presenting in health and care settings.
"It's looking like over the winter we'll be experiencing high pressures and demand for health and care services.
"The modelling doesn't take into account the behaviour changes we're likely to see with cold weather.
"People are more likely to meet indoors, particularly some of the large multi-generational gatherings we see in Luton and the increased shopping going into the winter season across the country.
"The models forecast we'll see a decline in case rates, but it's quite unpredictable," she added.
"We know in Luton we've specific risk factors, such as low vaccination rates, that make it even more questionable, so vigilance is required going into the winter months."
Conservative Icknield councillor Jeff Petts asked whether it was known if the 51 people in the Luton and Dunstable Hospital with Covid symptoms and the nine who've died recently had been vaccinated.
Ms Cartwright replied: "We don't specifically. We know being vaccinated greatly reduces the risk of going into hospital.
"And anecdotally the majority of people needing to be hospitalised now are unvaccinated or have one dose, but I can't say exactly the portion."