DAUK’s Editorial Lead Ellen Welch responds to the Covid-19 inquiry report in inews

Health professionals said frontline NHS and social care staff were left “woefully unprotected” by a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early months of the pandemic.

They pleaded with the Government not to ignore the recommendations made in today’s “lessons learned” report by MPs on the Science and Technology and Health and Social Care committees.

The following insight from two health professionals reveals the extent of that failure.

Dr Ellen Welch, GP, Editorial Lead, Doctors’ Association UK, and author of How the NHS Coped with Covid, due for release by Pen and Sword soon

Today’s “lessons learned” report held no great surprises for NHS staff. It is released as the UK records the highest number of deaths from coronavirus in Western Europe (136,986 deaths or 2,029 deaths per million people), along with over 7 million confirmed cases. 

The economy is recovering from a recession, while unemployment and national debt soars. Masks have been discarded; employees are returning to their workplaces and travel restrictions lifting as the country wills itself to return to ‘normal’.

Normality for the staff of the NHS however, is that this virus is not going away. Younger, unvaccinated people are being admitted to hospitals ; GPs are delivering almost 2 million more appointments per month than they were pre-pandemic, while still being accused of being closed by some sections of the media; and more than 5.45 million people are waiting for hospital treatment in England. Much of this was preventable.

Looking back on the events of the pandemic response in the UK shows how this crisis unfolded. When other countries closed borders and locked down, the UK dallied and debated herd immunity. 

Contact tracing was abandoned in early March 2020, while large gatherings continued to take place up until the end of that same month. 

As a GP working within the 111 service, I spoke with multiple patients at this time, all reporting classic symptoms of covid. At this point, widespread testing was not available, and quarantine only mandatory for people who had travelled to very specific countries. 

We all knew this was outrageous and often I counselled people to stay home regardless. The government allowed this virus to creep into the country unchecked, and much, much more should have been done to control spread.

Frontline NHS and social care staff were left woefully unprotected by a lack of PPE. Doctors’ Association UK raised concerns at the outset of the pandemic, reporting the shortages were putting them at risk. GPs fashioned their own PPE to enable them to see patients safely, while care homes were left unprotected. As a result – hundreds of frontline staff died.

We’ve seen the government ignore advice in the past – pandemic simulation exercise  ‘Cygnus’ conducted in 2016 showed that the UK was short of critical care beds, ventilators and PPE and could not cope with a pandemic – but stockpiling PPE was not done due to the expense. 

Last year we saw the events of March 2020 repeated in December in efforts to ‘save Christmas’ We can only hope that as another winter approaches, lessons really have been learned and the government takes decisive action if we approach crisis point again.

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