At the start of this pandemic, I expressed sympathy for ministers. Delaying lockdown would lead to more Covid deaths, yet going into lockdown would mean excess non-Covid deaths, including adverse health effects from a recession. I argued changes of strategy were not signs of weakness; mistakes were inevitable.
I stand by all that. But I couldn’t have anticipated quite so many mistakes. The Government has faltered at every turn and six months on, continues to do so. A couple of weeks back, ministers were engulfed by one of their biggest blunders – the fiasco involving A level grades.
The latest U-turn came too late to avoid significant anguish for students and schools. If we could grade the Government on recent performance then the PM, like so many teenagers, would be forced to rethink his immediate future. So let’s do just that.
Medicine: grade F
There was probably no right answer for how best to minimise the impact of the virus, but the Government definitely gave the wrong one. Among nations with a population of at least one million, the UK has the third highest Covid deaths per capita in the world. England has the highest excess deaths in Europe for 2020. With reports of delayed GP cancer referrals and other serious conditions being left to primary care, the health of the nation is being put at greater risk.
When it comes to passing the buck, ministers have been ‘world beating’
Economics: grade E
Again, the UK has been worse hit than most European countries. Close to home, promised funding for GPs has been delayed. Pulse has revealed there is limited funding for practices’ Covid-related costs – £3 per patient – and practices have just weeks to apply to the fund.
Media/communication studies: grade F
The messaging around social distancing has been so muddled that I’d be surprised if anyone knows the rules. The change from ‘stay home’ to ‘stay alert’ was indicative of poor communication from the start. Our September issue was going to ask, should masks be worn in surgeries… until we realised we’d asked that back in July. There’s still no clear answer.
Technology: grade E
Primary care transformed overnight, from a face-to-face service to a remote service – thanks to GPs, not ministers, whose attempts at a test and trace system have also been a total disaster. And while the problems with PPE manufacture and supply seem to have eased, this will be scant solace to the quarter of GPs who told a Pulse survey they thought they had contracted Covid-19 at some point.
Passing the buck: grade A*
Here, ministers have been ‘world beating’. They’ve criticised the public’s social distancing, even as their message got hazier. They’ve blamed care homes for their own policy of discharging potential Covid patients back into care homes. Matt Hancock set a new benchmark by abolishing Public Health England, appearing to scapegoat it for his own response to the pandemic. Then along came the education secretary to blame Ofqual for the A level scandal. Top marks.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.This editorial first appeared in the September issue of Pulse