BMA says the Government is ‘burying its head in the sand’ to the threat of Covid on the health service and recovery plans

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: England
Last reviewed: 12 April 2022

The BMA says the Government is failing to grasp how serious a threat the current levels of COVID-19 illness pose to the NHS and to wider society. The Association totally refutes yesterday’s comment from the Prime Minister’s office that COVID-19 should be ‘managed like any other respiratory illness’, when there is evidence that it is impacting people’s health and the NHS far more than normal, seasonal respiratory infections. Unless the Government puts in place measures to bring down infection rates, pressures on the NHS will escalate further, staff absence rates will continue to rise and millions of patients, already suffering waits of up to more than two years, will wait even longer.

The Association’s fears are supported by a survey of their members1, published today, in which 87%2 of doctors who responded said the Government’s aims to reduce the waiting lists for elective care, investigations, and procedures using the existing workforce, were either mostly or entirely unachievable. Similarly, 87%3 of respondents said they were not confident that people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, long-term physical and mental health issues, and those who are waiting for medical specialist care, will get the treatment they need before they get even more unwell.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said:

“It beggars belief that the Government thinks we can treat COVID-19 ‘like any other respiratory virus’, when its impact on people’s health and the NHS is manifestly far more damaging. The reality is that more than four million people were infected with COVID-19 last week4, 1.7 million people are suffering long Covid5, 20,000 patients are in hospital with the virus6 and over 1,000 people are dying each week6. Health services are struggling with almost 200,000 NHS staff absent due to COVID-19 in just one week7, resulting in patients facing last minute hospital and GP appointment cancellations.

“And now we have our members on the frontline telling us unequivocally they have little or no faith in the Government’s recovery plans.

“The Government is burying its head in the sand to the immediate threat of the virus to our healthcare services. NHS Trusts - like the Royal Stoke8 – are reintroducing measures to protect urgent cancer care, and NHS leaders in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight9 are pleading with families to take home relatives in hospital. Ambulance services are also faltering, with waits of up to 22 hours10, as emergency care plunges into crisis while politicians turn their backs. Doctors and healthcare professionals are unable to treat millions of patients stuck on waiting lists, some forced to suffer waits of longer than two years.

“It is clear that the result of the Government’s ‘Living with Covid’ strategy is failing to allow us to live with COVID-19. The Government’s abandonment of free testing is thwarting our ability to control the spread of the virus, with even business leaders now urging the Government to rethink and reverse its decision to prevent further harm to both healthcare and the economy.

“Vaccinations have undoubtedly made a huge difference but the uptake of the third booster is nowhere near as high as it should be and lags behind the level of uptake for first and second doses. Public messaging, encouraging people to get a jab, needs to continue, along with requiring simple protective measures, which have no impact on civil liberties – such as mask wearing on public transport and in confined spaces - and ventilation and air filtration in public and work settings.

“Unless this Government acts now to bring down infection rates and address the staffing crisis with realistic proposals, the risk of harm to patients will only increase.”

Ends

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.

1. A total of 1,194 doctors took part in the survey which was open between 6th and 8th April 2022.

2. When asked: Thinking about your place of work/training, to what extent do you think Government aims to tackle the backlog of waiting lists for elective care, investigations, and procedures (including diagnostics) is achievable with the existing healthcare workforce?

Achievable 1% (11 responses)
Mostly achievable 4.3% (47 responses)
Mostly unachievable 35.5% (389 responses)
Totally unachievable 51.7% (567 responses)
Don’t know 5.20% (57 responses)
Not relevant 2.4% (26 responses)

3. When asked: Thinking about your place of work / training, how confident are you that people with chronic diseases, long-term health issues, mental health problems, and waits for medical specialist care (not surgical) will receive the care they need without further deterioration?

Confident 3.2% (35 responses)
Not confident 87.9% (955 responses)
Don’t know 7.1% (78 responses)
Not relevant 1.8% (19 responses)

4. Office for National Statistics

5. Office for National Statistics - Long Covid

6. Government's Covid dashboard

7. NHSE Situation Reports

8. Stoke Sentinel

9.Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight CCG

10. The Guardian