The government is making “a deadly mistake”

Our message to countries continues to be: you must take a comprehensive approach.
Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all. Any country that looks at the experience of other countries with large epidemics and thinks “that won’t happen to us” is making a deadly mistake. It can happen to any country. The experience of China, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and others clearly demonstrates that aggressive testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilization, can prevent infections and save lives.”
Head of World Health Organisation

I am no health expert but the NHS advice in relation to Covid-19 seems patently mistaken. It tells you to stay at home when you start showing symptoms. It says that if you are at home you don’t need testing. This is ridiculous since it means that neither the government nor the NHS will know how many many people have got it. Moreover, if you have got it then you will likely have infected some people you have come into contact with prior to the symptoms emerging. That means it is impossible to trace those people who may be infected but don’t yet know it.

The government’s action plan (March 3rd) said that they were following advice from the WHO. Yet the WHO is saying that mass testing is a key component in trying to stop the spread of the virus. In contrast the government says it will not be testing people with mild symptoms. But the mild symptoms that you may have will impact on other people differently and may ultimately kill somebody who is old or frail.

Implicity this means that the government does not think it’s important to know who has got the virus. This is a recipe for facilitating its wider spread and for a higher number of deaths than might otherwise be the case.

In my opinion there needs to be mass testing in order to determine who has and hasn’t acquired it. Ultimately the wider the spread the more deaths.

Current government policy threatens to facilitate a higher death rate.

The wider the spread the more people will have to be hospitalised. That’s where we come up against the impact of many years of cuts in the NHS. There are just over 4,000 adult acute care beds in the UK. The NHS target is an 85% occupancy rate. So the available beds would only be somewhere in the region of 600. Aware of this the NHS is discussing using operating theatres and recovery rooms for those who need to be hospitalised. Some professionals are saying that we need 28,000 acute care beds. Obviously you need the extra people to staff them.

If the spread of the disease reaches Italian levels then we could see a repeat of the experience there where, even though they have more acute beds than the UK, they have been overwhelmed in some areas and faced with the choice of who to treat and who not.

One of the lessons of this is that the attempt to run the NHS as if it were some commercial enterprise, matching supply and demand, is the very reason why the NHS is under immense pressure all through the year. For many years there has been insufficient spare capacity in the system. The size of PFI hospitals like the GWH in Swindon were determined not by an assessment of local needs (and likely future needs) but by their cost.

Boris Johnson’s comment warning us that many people will lose loved ones “before their time” is not leadership but fatalism. Leadership requires taking every action to minimise the number of deaths. In order to do that the government needs to follow the advice of the WHO outlined in the comments of its Director, above.

Martin Wicks

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