A cautious and measured approach to easing lockdown restrictions is the only way to prevent another wave of Covid-19 and is the Westminster Government’s last chance to save the NHS from becoming dangerously overwhelmed again, the BMA has warned.
Ahead of a review by the Government on Monday, a new report1 by the Association says that any relaxation of restrictions in England must be guided by clear metrics set first and foremost against rates of infection, as well as mortality, hospital capacity, and vaccine coverage.
Indeed, healthcare experts suggest that a seven-day case rate of 10 infections or fewer per 100,000 of population would allow for a safe and sustained return to a more normal social and economic life – something the BMA is urging the Government to heed in order to stop the health service grinding to a halt again. This roughly equates to 1,000 cases per day across the UK. The current average number of daily infections this week is 12,500.
The report comes after the Association first set out recommendations for easing England’s second national lockdown in November last year, but with the advice ignored and restrictions relaxed before rates of the virus had been brought to a sufficiently low level – coupled with the alarming spread of new variants – infections, pressure on the NHS, and ultimately deaths, tragically surged.
The BMA believes this is the Government’s last chance to prevent the NHS from being pushed even closer to the brink of collapse – the health service is facing its largest-ever backlog of care, with more than 200,000 patients waiting over 12 months for operations, and its exhausted workforce stretched like never before.
Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of council at the BMA, said: “This is a pivotal moment in the next phase of this pandemic, which is why we must proceed with absolute caution when it comes to considering how and when lockdown restrictions might be eased.
“Infection rates are thankfully falling, but they are doing so from an incredibly high peak, and the numbers mask the precarious situation that the NHS is still in. Thousands are still in hospital being treated for Covid-19, waiting times for elective care are getting longer, and staff in hospitals and general practice are being stretched in every direction to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing.
“It is only by looking at both NHS pressures and rates of infection that we can accurately gauge when to start easing the current lockdown, not only to prevent our health service from crumbling, but also to prevent the immeasurable grief for more families from losing someone close to this dreadful virus.
“A cautious approach to easing lockdown must go hand-in-hand with the successful NHS vaccine rollout, as even the most efficient immunisation operation won’t be enough to prevent further waves of infection if restrictions are lifted too soon. The Government must bear in mind that only once we have data on the full impact of the vaccine programme – including on curbing transmission – will we be able to make an informed judgement about the level of risk posed by easing certain restrictions.
“Until then, it’s paramount that we keep up rigorous infection control measures in public places through continued social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, and that this is reinforced by clear and consistent Government messaging.
“It’s clear that there must be no arbitrary date set for lockdown easing, and that taking a cautious approach is the only way to save lives and stop the NHS from becoming overwhelmed to a point of no return. Ahead of Monday, we hope the Government remembers that our health service is currently akin to a house of cards – one wrong move by them, and it will surely 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.
1. Please find the full report.