A major new report by the BMA warns that lifting lockdown without new measures in place risks deepening the crisis in our health service, and will leave hospitals and GP practices overwhelmed, unable to provide even the most critical of patient care.
The report, ‘Exiting the lockdown – a strategy for sustainably controlling the transmission of COVID-19 in England,’1 outlines major reforms for England, once lockdown is lifted, to keep infection rates low and pull back the NHS from collapse this winter.
The BMA is calling for the new measures – to bridge the time between the planned end of lockdown in England, on December 2nd, and an effective vaccine programme getting underway – to be rapidly brought in.
Doctors fear that without these reforms, the toll on patient care and lives will be severe.
In the report, the Association details the steps required to control COVID-19 in a three-phased approach.
In Phase One – before lockdown ends – the BMA wants to see widescale reform to the testing and contact tracing programme. For example, a far greater proportion of the national budget for track and trace needs to be given to local public health teams so they’re able to provide more effective tracing and testing, led by public health in local authorities and Public Health England health protection teams.
In the second Phase – once England exits lockdown, doctors want to see far more effective and robust national measures up and running to reduce infection rates and keep the virus at bay. The BMA says the Government must learn from the first lockdown, where rapid relaxation of infection control policies, inadequate monitoring ,and encouragement to socially mix in restaurants and bars, and to return to work, resulted in a surge of virus spread, leaving us unprepared to face autumn and winter.
To prevent another surge in infections and the collapse of health and social care services, the BMA wants to see, in Phase 2:
- Replacing the ‘rule of six’ which allowed mixing of up to six households with a ‘two households’ rule to reduce social mixing.
- No travel between or across different local lockdown Tiers.
- Publication of rules rather than guidance for the creation of COVID-19 secure environments in public settings, hospitality and workplaces and for the rules to be enforced.
- No return to encouraging people to ‘go back to the office’ when it’s possible to work from home.
- Practical changes to the NHS COVID-19 app so it provides infection information at a local level and guidance in a simple ‘airline safety’ style.
- Targeted support for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals and for communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic (including BAME communities).
The BMA Chair of Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said:
“We must not squander the efforts of the many people who have followed the law, stayed at home, sacrificed freedoms and incurred financial loss in order to contain the virus.
“When the first lockdown ended, there was no coherent plan for keeping COVID-19 at bay, no clear and simple public messaging; this was followed by spiralling infection rates, more businesses failing, new ‘local’ lockdowns, and now we have a death toll at more than 52,000.
“As England prepares to exit its second lockdown, it is unthinkable that we make the same mistakes again because this time, the impact will be far worse. It’s reasonable to conclude, that without these measures, the NHS will not be able to cope with caring for even the most critically ill patients.
“This report demonstrates a sustainable plan for reducing the level of infections from COVID-19 until a vaccine programme is underway.”
The report concludes with Phase Three – the widespread uptake of a safe and effective vaccine, the best way of tackling COVID-19, protecting vulnerable people and easing economic and societal restrictions. But it needs to be properly planned and resourced and the Government must use this time to do this. GP practices need information and support, so they are ready and able to provide the vaccinations. As more vaccines become available, there needs to be national and local public information campaigns to help everyone know how where and when they can be vaccinated.
Time is limited, but as the BMA’s report reveals, with swift but major reforms to the Government’s current handling of the pandemic, past mistakes can be avoided, lives saved, and the NHS can be pulled from the brink of collapse.
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- View the full report.