The Government must consider whether another Covid-19 lockdown would cause more harm than good to the population’s ‘health and wellbeing’, according to a group of nearly 70 GPs led by high-profile names.
In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock on Saturday, media doctors Dr Ellie Cannon and Dr Phil Hammond urged the Government to consider non-Covid harms and deaths ‘with equal standing’ as reported deaths from Covid.
The letter, signed by 66 GPs, said: ‘Restrictions and lockdown have recognised value in pandemic control and we fully supported the first lockdown when little was known about the virus.
‘The position now is transformationally different: after the short, initial lockdown phase, the harms to long term health and wellbeing begin to outweigh the benefits.’
It added: ‘Now is a critical pivotal point: we must recognise our duty to do no harm.’
Other signatories of the letter included Tower Hamlets GP and chair of London’s 32 CCGs Professor Sir Sam Everington and chair of the National Association of Sessional GPs Dr Richard Fieldhouse, as well as Kent portfolio GP Dr Stephanie deGiorgio.
GPs are concerned that a ‘one-track’ response to rising cases ‘threatens more lives and livelihoods than Covid-lives saved’, the letter said.
It added that lockdown had created ‘myriad harms, both logged and latent, that need to be balanced with ongoing restrictions and infection control.’
It said examples include:
- An ‘inflation’ of acute cardiovascular deaths, ‘most of which did not relate to Covid-19’
- A ‘concerning signal’ that child suicide death rates increased in the UK during lockdown
- Higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness among the older shielding population with multiple long-term health conditions, as well as reduced physical activity
Less than one in ten of the 30,260 excess deaths that have occurred in private homes since March are due to coronavirus, the letter added.
It said: ‘Covid deaths alone can no longer be used as the unilateral measure of harm. Public health goes beyond deaths and ICU beds.
‘We do not wish to undermine the seriousness of pandemic management but the wider harm to babies, children, young people and adults of all ages can no longer be ignored.’
Dr Cannon said: ‘[The] chief medical officer has talked of the fine path to tread between Covid harms and non-Covid risks, but when professionals try and discuss this they are labelled a Covid-denier or accused of wanting to kill someone’s granny.
‘It is important the middle ground view is heard and GPs have that eye on everyone in the community from cradle to grave. I believe there are no generalists advising the Government.’
Dr Hammond added: ‘No-one sensible is suggesting we allow the virus to ‘run wild’, but our pandemic management needs to be more holistic.
‘Covid is just one of many serious threats to public health. Cancer, heart disease, obesity, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, pollution, abuse etc. If you relentlessly publish the data on one risk whilst overlooking the others, more people die from forgotten risks.’
It comes as chief medical officer Chris Whitty last week urged patients to continue to visit their GP despite the ‘direction of travel’ for Covid-19 infections going ‘in the wrong direction’.
And the BMA has warned that GP practices will not cope with a second wave of Covid-19 unless they receive more funding for costs, more support for staff and a reduction in bureaucracy.
Read the full letter