Responding to the latest Office for National Statistics data showing a rise in Covid infections across the UK, Professor Philip Banfield, BMA council chair, said:
“The NHS faces a gargantuan task to tackle the backlog of care that has placed 6.6 million people on waiting lists for treatment in England alone – but it cannot make inroads without keeping Covid cases at low levels. With ONS data showing infection rates rising across the UK, and with possible future waves on the horizon, the Government must demonstrate that it has a reliable long-term plan for dealing with Covid.
“It is vital that there is strong messaging from Government to ensure that the public are well informed about the risks of Covid-19, so they take steps to protect themselves and others. Equally, we must ensure our infrastructure is adequately ventilated, so that public buildings, like hospitals, GPs surgeries or schools, and public transport are not sites of heightened transmission.
“Keeping healthcare settings safe must be a priority; we must learn from previous waves. Bringing back mask-wearing for patients in healthcare settings, ensuring regular NHS staff testing and making sure that staff have access to appropriate PPE, including FFP3 masks if looking after patients with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, are all measures that should be taken to mitigate risks, including for those who are clinically vulnerable.
“There must be recognition from the Government that heightened waves of infection lead to greater staff illness and absences, stretching health and care settings to the limit and beyond – at the same time that more capacity is urgently needed. Staffing deficits are dangerously curtailing the NHS’s ability to tackle the backlog. The Government must respond by putting in place a credible long-term plan to increase staffing across the board, backed by independent workforce assessments.
“After more than two years of working in the most harrowing conditions, and putting themselves at risk to care for patients, it is wholly unacceptable for the Government to have withdrawn special Covid leave and pay for NHS staff, without preparing for alternative support. The reality is that without proper support, most staff will have no choice but to return to work, delaying their recovery and putting patients at risk. Given that the risks of long Covid are not fully understood, the prevailing cavalier attitude towards ‘living with Covid’ has unknown consequences that we cannot support. The recovery of the NHS depends on the recovery of its workforce. The Government must develop a plan to provide improved financial and wider support to staff with long Covid, so that their expertise and skill is not permanently lost from the NHS.”
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.