WWhen the coronavirus first entered the UK, the country was backward and ill-prepared. The NHS was already facing record waiting times for operations, cancer treatments and GP appointments. Successive cuts to mental and social care and severe labor shortages had left health services exposed and unable to function properly in normal times, much less during a pandemic.
As a result, the NHS was forced to suspend routine services to treat the overwhelming increase in Covid-19 patients. The rooms were repurposed for intensive care and the NHS staff were quickly reassigned. There were around 2.5 million fewer outpatient first appointments and 280,000 fewer urgent cancer referrals between April and June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Less than half the expected number of operations were completed, generating a backlog of care and a current record waiting list of 4.6 million, with more than 220,000 patients now waiting over a year for non-Covid treatments.
While daily government press conferences have focused on the alarming Covid-19 mortality figures, we must not overlook the increased death toll in our population. Approximately 12,000 excess deaths occurred as a result of non-Covid conditions during the first wave. Understanding the broader effects of Covid-19 on the population is exactly why we need a public investigation into the handling of the pandemic. This would help us understand what went wrong during the UK Covid crisis and show us what needs to happen to prepare for future public health emergencies. We must learn from last year. We will never again encounter the worst death rate in Europe.
One of the key findings of a public inquiry would certainly be the government’s lack of preparedness. Ministers have a duty to protect frontline healthcare personnel with appropriate and appropriate personal protective equipment. They repeatedly assured the public that the UK had sufficient reserves, initially blaming delivery problems for the lack of PPE. But it soon became clear that there was no adequate arsenal in the first place. Care staff were denied vital PPE during the early days of the pandemic, contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in nursing homes and the tragic loss of approximately 30,000 lives.
As a result, the government desperately sought supplies of PPE, striking ad hoc deals for dazzling sums with private suppliers, many of them with no prior experience supplying such materials. It also resorted to ordering emergency supplies from abroad, such as long-sleeved gowns in an 84-ton shipment from Turkey last April, which were not only delayed but rendered unusable after failing quality tests.
We know that some of the NHS staff, many of whom were already at increased risk from Covid-19, did not have the proper personal protective equipment and yet felt pressure to continue working and treating their patients. Last April, only 12% of doctors said they felt completely protected from the virus at work, and it is estimated that 900 health and social care workers had tragically died of Covid-19 at the end of last year.
Huge sums of public money were also squandered on the private sector. The reports of the public accounts committee on the acquisition of EPI and the test and trace system of England show the magnitude of this failure. The government budgeted £ 37 billion for a test and trace system that was not up to scratch (by comparison, Public Health England’s entire budget is just £ 300 million). Local public health teams were able to reach 97% of people compared to just over 60% of national outsourced sites last November. The remarkable achievement of the vaccination program reinforces the effectiveness of the NHS, which has delivered a program at a fraction of the cost of the private sector.
The recent report of the public administration committee shows that there has been a lack of transparency around the information that informed the decisions of ministers during the pandemic. While the government repeatedly told the public that it was being “run by science,” its policies often seemed more influenced by political concerns. From delaying the closure and allowing foreign visitors to freely enter the country without any control, to deciding whether suspend the test Last March, the government’s failures were multiple. This disregard for scientific advice became apparent last September, when ministers failed to publicize or act on Sage’s advice to implement a circuit breaker lockout, then announced a relaxation of the rules at Christmas as rates increased. infection and hospitalization.
Ministers have also been consistently slow and hesitant in issuing policies. The BMA advocated the public use of face masks as a precautionary measure in April, when it was already the norm in most European nations. However, the government was wrong for two months before requiring the use of masks. These were initially only mandatory on public transport, before they were finally implemented more widely in July.
Of the many mistakes a public inquiry would expose, one of the oldest problems has been failing to address Britain’s many structural inequalities. Around one third of patients in intensive care beds have been identified as black, Asian or ethnic minority, and in May it was reported that six out of 10 health workers who had died from Covid came from BAME. Ethnic minority populations have been up to four times more likely to die from the virus, while people living in the most deprived areas of England and Wales have existed twice as likely die from Covid-19.
A public inquiry would shed light on this devastating panorama. It would show that the healthcare service is currently running out and needs urgent investments in its workforce, hospital beds and community facilities if it is to meet sudden increases in demand without interrupting routine services. An investigation would also expose the inequalities that have penalized the most vulnerable and poorest people during the pandemic. Only by reflecting and learning from the mistakes of the past 12 months will we ensure that Britain is prepared for future public health crises.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism