The Government does not currently plan to introduce new Covid restrictions, despite a sharp rise in case numbers, with the health secretary saying this comes as pressure on the NHS – including GPs – is ‘not unsustainable’.
In a Downing Street press briefing yesterday evening, Sajid Javid said that the Government would not implement its ‘plan B’ for winter ‘at this point’, going on to suggest that a current figure of over 100 daily Covid deaths was ‘mercifully low’.
In response, the country’s top GP said that the Government’s decision not to try to curb infection rates with restrictions at this time was ‘wilfully negligent’.
According to the latest Government data, almost 50,000 new positive cases were reported yesterday, with a 17% rise in cases over the last week compared to the previous seven days.
The number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus also rose 11% between 10 October and 16 October compared with the previous seven days, while deaths have risen by 21% between 14 October and 20 October compared with the previous week.
Announcing the ‘winter plan’ last month, the health secretary said that the Government’s ‘plan B’ was designed to ‘prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS’, although this does not include further lockdowns.
But, responding to a question from the BBC, Mr Javid said: ‘We don’t believe that the pressures that are currently faced by the NHS are unsustainable.
‘Don’t get me wrong, there are huge pressures – especially in A&E, in primary care for example as well – but at this point, we don’t believe they are unsustainable.’
The Government and its ‘friends in the NHS’ will ‘not hesitate to act’ if they feel that pressures ‘are becoming unsustainable’, he added.
‘Deaths remain mercifully low but they are still sadly over 100 a day,’ the health secretary said.
But the BMA warned that the Government’s decision not to launch its ‘plan B’ now is ‘incredibly concerning’ and ‘wilfully negligent’.
Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP in North London, said: ‘The Westminster Government said it would enact “plan B” to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed; as doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now.
‘By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown.’
He added: ‘It is therefore incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS. Especially as we head into winter, when the NHS is in the grips of tackling the largest backlog of care, with an already depleted and exhausted workforce.
‘It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster Government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask-wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.’
Yesterday, the NHS Confederation urged the Government to implement a ‘plan B plus’, including measures such as mandatory face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces, ‘without delay’ to prevent the NHS from being ‘overwhelmed’ this winter.
Measures should include calling on the public to ‘use frontline services responsibly’, such as ‘accepting appointments with primary care professionals other than GPs, such as practice nurses and community pharmacists, as well as remotely from both primary and secondary care, if offered and suitable’, it said.
In September, Mr Javid said the Government’s ‘plan B’ would include:
- communicating need for caution to the public;
- legally mandating face coverings in certain settings;
- reserving the power to mandate Covid passports
- asking people to work from home for a limited time
At the time, he stressed that the measures would only be implemented if ‘supported by the data’ and said that ‘any responsible Government must prepare for all eventualities’.
GPs took to Twitter to express dismay at the health secretary’s comments – which come as NHS England and the Government have set out a £250m ‘support’ package for GPs that sets out a range of measures to improve access to practices.