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Doctors to demand inquiry into Government’s handling of pandemic

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The BMA is set to demand a public inquiry into the UK Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, following an ‘overwhelming’ vote in favour at today’s annual representative meeting.

The motion proposed five remits for the inquiry including PPE provision, the testing strategy and wellbeing of health and care staff during the pandemic.

It was ‘carried overwhelmingly’, with 98% of delegates voting in favour, BMA chief officer and conference chair Dr Helena McKeown announced.

Speaking at the virtual conference on behalf of the proposer, chair of BMA West Midlands council Dr Stephen Millar referenced ‘an inadequate, patchy, unreliable and unpredictable supply of PPE of variable quality’.

The Government’s ‘unmet promises and multibillion pound procurement without robust minimum specifications and guidelines for use seemingly changing to match availability rather than effectiveness’ must also be investigated, he said.

Meanwhile, ‘much-delayed’ staff risk assessments that ‘tick boxes but haven’t necessarily protected’ are another area of concern, as well as ‘testing that many months into the pandemic still cannot keep pace with the demand’, Dr Millar added.

He said: ‘I do not call for the inquiry to attribute blame, not to individuals nor to administration, for who amongst us would have got every one of these decisions right? 

‘Rather I call for an inquiry so that the nation can learn from this experience better to manage the next overwhelming health crisis – whatever and whenever that is – but which undoubtedly sooner or later will happen.’

He added: ‘We owe it to the future generations to ensure that lessons are learnt – not to do so would be an irresponsible betrayal.

The proposer was unable to attend the conference due to being ‘very busy in general practice’, according to Dr McKeown.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul added that a ‘full review’ of the pandemic response is ‘BMA policy’.

He said: ‘We will have future pandemics, [so] we have to have a proper full review of all elements of what it means to prepare for a pandemic and implement the right actions to protect the nation.’

Dr Nagpaul added that he has signed a joint letter with the medical colleges calling for a rapid review ‘in preparation for what looks like a second spike, or least other major outbreaks’.

It comes as the conference also voted in favour of a motion calling for the Government to ‘be honest’ with the public about the scale of the NHS backlog and to fund extra capacity to deal with it.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The Government has a duty to the public to be honest about the scale of the backlog and how long it will take to clear – informed by the experiences of clinicians on the ground.

‘And while the Government pledged to give the NHS ”everything it needed” to fight the early days of the outbreak in Britain, it must now do the same in ensuring the health service has the capacity to address the growing backlog in care, backed by guaranteed investment.’

However, one part of the motion that suggested GPs should review the ‘appropriateness’ of referrals was voted down by the conference.

Speaking against the proposal, Dr Shaba Nabi argued that GPs should not be expected to ‘sort out all the issues within secondary care’.

She said: ‘General practice cannot continue to absorb this endless work shift from secondary to primary care and we absolutely need to stop this mindset that GPs are community house officers.’

It comes as Dr Nagpaul this morning called for the Government to protect doctors with adequate PPE after at least 34 doctors have so far died.

The BMA is set to vote on motions regarding GP regulation and industrial action on pay later today.