Doctors felt they ‘might die’ because the NHS was ‘so unprepared’ to cope with the pandemic, the BMA chair told the Covid Inquiry yesterday.
Professor Phil Banfield said the BMA had warned for many years before the pandemic about the lack of capacity within the health system.
This witness statement was provided as part of the inquiry’s ongoing session on resilience and preparedness which began last month.
Professor Banfield said: ‘We knew that this was unprepared for. We had no idea what was coming our way.
‘We were suddenly in a position where not only patients were going to die, but our colleagues and ourselves were in a position where we might die because we felt so unprepared.’
The medical profession was already ‘working constantly on the premise that our system may tip over at any moment’, due to NHS underfunding.
In addition, personal protection equipment was not fit for purpose, as the BMA often warned during the pandemic.
Professor Banfield told the Covid Inquiry that health and safety legislation was disregarded before the pandemic when it came to PPE. A precautionary approach was not taken in these circumstances because occupational medicine has been allowed to ‘collapse in this country’.
He warned that ‘one mask does not fit all’ and ‘it was predominately male faces that masks were built for’.
It comes as a Government watchdog concluded today that the Government was ‘panic buying’ PPE when Covid-19 gripped the country, and accepted ‘very high levels of risk’ when choosing suppliers with ‘sub-optimal’ bids.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report focused on contracts worth over £200m that were awarded to the company PPE Medpro in June 2020, just a month after the company was first set up.
It also found there were ‘serious defects in the Government’s stewardship of public money’ when it came to handling conflicts of interest.
The contracting is also facing a National Crime Agency investigation and a House of Lords Commissioners for Standards investigation into the conduct of Baroness Mone, who referred PPE Medpro to the DHSC via a ‘VIP’ lane hat allowed referrals of potential suppliers from MPs, peers, ministers and senior officials.
The report said: ‘During the initial stages of the crisis, the [DHSC] solicited offers to provide PPE with no tendering process and received multiple offers from companies without any track record of delivering PPE and/or with varying track records and longevity.
‘The Department then had insufficient time and resources to reflect properly on each offer, and under pressure caused by the sudden need for PPE, chose to accept very high levels of risk, as we have reported previously in our reports.’
In January, the National Audit Office found that almost £15bn worth of Covid supplies including PPE, vaccines and lateral flow tests have been wasted.
Last year, a BMA report said the Government ‘failed in its duty of care’ to doctors in its handling of the pandemic, with respondents to a call for evidence citing lack of infection prevention and control, including insufficient PPE and Government messaging.