The UK Government had a stated plan and strategy, repeated in a number of press conferences, to keep UK coronavirus fatalities under 20,000. It looks very likely that, unfortunately, we are on course to exceed that figure.
Sadly, it may only have itself to blame. First, there is growing evidence that ministers delayed the response, resulting in more deaths in the UK than would otherwise have been the case. Simply put, the Government didn’t act to protect the population in time.
Second, while the deaths in the general population are regrettable, the failure to safeguard our frontline workers is inexcusable both in terms of their loss of life but also because they are the very people who are needed to save the lives of the public.
Two months into the Covid-19 crisis in Britain, we shouldn’t still be hearing that doctors feel unprotected when they go to work. Depending on how the data is recorded, there are 103 health and social care related deaths to date, and counting. The NHS staff, including GPs, have been forced to work without PPE. This borders on criminal negligence. We chose medicine to alleviate the suffering of people not to put our own lives on the line.
Not only does this lack of PPE put doctors and patients at risk, it also presents doctors with challenging ethical decisions about whether to provide treatment in the absence of effective PPE and risk catching the infection themselves as well as transmitting it to their families. Doctors’ goodwill too has its limits.
Two months into the Covid-19 crisis in Britain, we shouldn’t still be hearing that doctors feel unprotected
Third, there is are the problems around testing. In January, health secretary Matt Hancock claimed: ‘The UK is one of the first countries to have developed a world leading test for the new coronavirus.’ I wonder where all these tests are now and why he delayed using them on frontline staff and patients for several months. The majority of our medics have died because of inadequate safeguards.
These mistakes have led to world-leading disease-data analysts projecting that the UK will become the country worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, accounting for more than 40% of total deaths across the continent. This is even without the latest ONS revelations the Government has under-reported the fatality figures by more than half because, as we are now aware, community deaths have not yet been recorded in the daily stats that we get.
I’ve heard Covid-19 referred to as a beast, because it ravages many of those it infects. But the beast could have been tamed, and the outcome could surely have been a more acceptable one. Instead, the UK and the NHS are setting the records for the wrong reasons, which is giving us a reputation we do not deserve, all due to the poor handling by this Government.
I couldn’t agree more with Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, that the response by this Government to Covid-19 is a ‘national scandal’. In an editorial, Mr Horton said he would testify to Parliament about a mismatch between ’the urgent warning that was coming from the front line in China’ and the ’somewhat pedestrian evaluation’ of the scientific advice to the Government on the threat of the virus.
The Government must be held to account. Only an independent public enquiry will satisfy the public that the loss of lives was not in vain.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP in Tameside