Doctors attending the association’s annual representative meeting in Brighton roundly endorsed a succession of motions highlighting the growing complacency in the Government’s approach and the public perception of the threat posed by the virus.
With infection rates in the UK once again on the rise, members backed calls aimed at both addressing the practical and regulatory deficiencies in the ongoing support for tackling COVID in healthcare settings, while also demanding a timely a truly independent outcome from the COVID-19 public inquiry chaired by Baroness Hallett.
London GP Pamela Martin (pictured above) referred to the ‘prime duty of government to protect the population’, and outlined how critical it was that NHS staff access to high-quality PPE, regular COVID-19 vaccine boosters and free of charge lateral flow and PCR testing, needed to be continued or reinstated with urgency.
Dr Martin further called for the continued funding of the Office for National Statistics household COVID surveillance programme while also strongly criticising the UK’s inadequate level of statutory sick pay which she warned was making self-isolation for many of those with COVID financially impossible.
‘If you’re positive you don’t want to endanger people but how can you self-isolate on £99.35 a week? How can you pay your bills on less than what has been defined as a minimum? The rate of SSP is a national scandal and a public health problem [and] the BMA needs to shout about it.’
Endorsing the motion, Baroness Ilora Finlay, who is a member of the all-party parliamentary group on the coronavirus, warned that without taking steps to ensure the health of the public, covid presented a serious risk not only to wellbeing but to the UK economy.
‘Healthcare staff are the frontline recipients of new mutations of the virus and new and emerging infections. If we don’t keep those at the frontline healthy there is really very little hope for the country ever to recover from this pandemic.’
The provisions set out by Dr Martin’s calls were echoed by Worcestershire consultant rheumatologist Adrian Farrell who called on both the health secretary and his counterparts in other UK nations to strengthen regulation around covid.
This included funding for mandatory rapid covid testing to be made available to all, financial resources for increasing covid isolation bed capacity and the continuation of the testing of asymptomatic health service staff across primary and secondary care.
Manchester consultant psychiatrist JS Bamrah meanwhile gave focus to the ongoing public inquiry into the pandemic, emphasising how the review’s remit owed it to the NHS to incorporate all aspects of the national response to COVID-19.
Dr Bamrah said that it was absolutely crucial that the inquiry looked at the Government response in its entirety including the failings on PPE and the roll out of track and trace and the disproportionate rate of death and infection among ethnic minority groups, adding that the findings needed to be provided in a timely manner.
‘We must see the results of the inquiry in its entirety and all the recommendations must be free of political interference. We want [this] for better preparedness for the next pandemic, for an NHS that is fit to meet increasing demand … and not constantly apologising for cancelled operations and the unsightliness of long ambulance waits.’