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It is damning that this government makes progress only when it has no choice

Already, more than 20,000 patients who tested positive for Covid-19 have tragically already died in UK hospitals, which was the Government’s target to stay below. Among them are seven GPs. 

On a daily basis, the Government’s response has been compared with that of Germany, a country of broadly similar size and demographics. Deaths related to Covid-19 there stand at roughly 6,000 as of April 28.

In middle of April, headlines became markedly more negative for the Government. An excellent investigation in The Sunday Times revealed the Prime Minister had missed Cobra meetings, played down the scale of the crisis, exported PPE to China and failed to obtain the testing equipment needed. It illustrated this with a photograph of Boris Johnson playing with a Chinese dragon.

Mr Johnson’s admission that he shook hands with Covid-19 patients helped with the underplaying of the virus. I’m still wary of criticising the herd immunity strategy, as I feel the chaos and the imperfect data at the time meant any decision was fraught with problems. Even so, the decisions to give the go-ahead to the Cheltenham Festival, Stereophonics and Lewis Capaldi concerts, and the Liverpool v Atlético Madrid Champions League match looked a disgrace at the time, and history is likely to judge them harshly.

At this stage, the risks are too clear to be fobbed off with a jolly rendition of Happy Birthday

While we welcome his recovery, Mr Johnson – a charismatic populist – is probably the last person you’d want as a leader at a time like this, with the exception of Donald Trump, and his address this week did nothing to sway me from this opinion. What would we give now for a detail-obsessed technocrat? There are a number of factors behind the relative success of Germany, but Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her scientific background, would be welcome here right now.

There’s no doubt the decade-long decimation of budgets – including for pandemic planning – left the UK on the back foot. But at this stage there is no point looking back. There must be a truth and reconciliation process when this is over, with all involved speaking freely, but that is for then.

The fact is, since the lockdown began, the Government has really had no choice over any decision it has made. The moves to ramp up PPE production at home and work with factories abroad, the opening of the Nightingale hospitals, the increased testing, the huge sums put into developing a vaccine and the furlough scheme were all inescapable.

But this should provide a glimmer of light for GPs. While it is damning that this government works best when it has no choice, the priorities are now so obvious that we can expect it to be more effective. It has little option but to be transparent around lifting restrictions, or to prioritise healthcare workers’ safety. At this stage, the risks are too clear – and we are all too invested – to be fobbed off with a jolly rendition of Happy Birthday.

So should GPs fear for their health and lives? In our survey, 75% said they do, and I am in no position to disagree. But I do feel GPs and other healthcare staff are now being listened to, and the Government is doing all it can. But ministers’ earlier actions mean this might not be enough to redeem themselves or, tragically, to protect GPs, other NHS staff or patients.

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at Pulse is running the ‘Pulse Education Fund’ to support our efforts during the pandemic. For more on this, click here