NHS boss says new COVID treatments in second half of 2021 offer hope of 'much more normal future'

'Return to a much more normal future': NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens. (PA)
'Return to a much more normal future': NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens. (PA)
  • NHS boss says COVID should become ‘much more treatable’ from second half of 2021

  • Despite ongoing winter crisis, Sir Simon Stevens says he’s optimistic about NHS returning to normal amid vaccine rollout and new COVID treatments ‘in the pipeline’

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NHS boss Sir Simon Stevens has said coronavirus should become “much more treatable” in hospitals in the second half of the year.

Sir Simon, the chief executive of NHS England, said that alongside the ongoing rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the likely emergence of new treatments will help the NHS “return to a much more normal” state.

During the winter COVID crisis, the NHS has experienced record numbers of coronavirus patients in hospital. Just under 33,000 are currently in hospitals across England, Sir Simon said.

Meanwhile, of the total 4,000 people in critical care, 75% are COVID patients. Amid these pressures, he admitted there are concerns about non-COVID treatments such as cancer surgery.

Watch: NHS chief executive describes 'very serious' position in hospitals

However, when asked for a “working assumption” of when the NHS may return to normal, he was optimistic.

Sir Simon, appearing at a joint meeting of the House of Commons health and social care and science and technology committees on Tuesday, said: “A lot of us in the health service are increasingly hopeful that the second half of the year and beyond will see more therapeutics, more treatments for coronavirus.”

Using one example of last year’s discovery that the cheap and widely available dexamethasone drug can help save patients’ lives, Sir Simon went on: “The ones that have already surfaced are well known… but there are a number of others in the pipeline.

“And I think it’s possible that over the course of the next six to 18 months, coronavirus also becomes a much more treatable disease with antivirals and other therapies – which alongside the vaccination programme obviously holds out the hope of a return to a much more normal future.”

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Meanwhile, Sir Simon also said he hoped to see the COVID vaccine combined with the flu jab in the future.

He said “it would be great if the COVID vaccine and flu vaccine ends up being combined into a single vaccine, which we might see if not this winter but future winters as well”.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown