October 13 2021

I have spent some time today reading the House of Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committee’s report published yesterday entitled “Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date”. I had a special interest in this report as I had been part of a team that produced written evidence for this enquiry on behalf of the Institute of Civil Protection and Emergency Management. The report itself runs to some 143 pages, but if you have nothing better to do, it is worth a read to help you understand the complexities of running a response to a pandemic. If you just want to read our contribution, it’s only 15 pages and can be found in the list of written evidence with a reference of CLL0054.

I have been appalled at some of the media coverage of this report which seems to report abject failure by our politicians and scientists. Hindsight is always very helpful, but we were in totally uncharted water. Nobody in the UK had ever faced such a situation before. One error of contingency planning, which is well accepted, was the failure to think of any other cause of a pandemic other than influenza. Work has been done regularly on an influenza pandemic plan since the early days of the NHS.

Some media reporting has suggested that this is the greatest public health disaster ever to befall the UK. In fact it is the only one ever to have impacted our already overstretched National Health Service, which began its life in 1948. Please explain to me how it can be the worst if it’s the only one! The last real pandemic to hit the UK was in 1918 just at the end of the First World War. This was a real global pandemic of influenza. There was an estimate of 50 million deaths. Far, far more than we have seen this time. They are just not comparable.

I have no doubt that there were errors of judgement. We still do not really know just how effective a standard facemask is. Probably a little better than first thought , we do have much more evidence now. Were the lockdowns too little too late, or too harsh? Were they effective and how could they be enforced,? Did we need a Coronavirus Act or could all have been dealt with under the emergency powers of the Civil Contingencies Act? This will be debated for years. Should there have been a lead Government department, should it be Health or perhaps the Home Office? Should we have formed a department for the pandemic. Where and how do we determine the best people to organise and run it?

What about the science? We have seen some remarkable leadership from people like the Chief Medical Officers and the Chief Scientific Officers. They have presented a remarkable unified approach at least in public. Did the Science really lead the government thinking as Boris so often claimed?- up perspective and how well did it fit the NHS structure?Somethings, like calling all able-bodied retired NHS staff back to work like me, worked brilliantly and the cooperation of the regulatory bodies like the GMC and the nursing council was astounding. I am sure this will be repeated in the future. We may even have a national reserve like the armed forces had after the war.

Vaccine production, research and development were again fantastic. The regulatory body being prepared to go through all the development testing at the same time gave us a great advantage in getting vaccination done.

I will be interested in your thoughts about all this. Just remember that in a crisis nobody does less than their best. People were working 20 hr days, sleeping in the office trying to build an NHS that could cope. Some people may be brilliant in their daily work but less so put under pressure. For others it can be the other way round and a crisis brings out new reliable leaders and innovators.

The statistics fluctuate a bit but are mostly stable. Less than a million tests have been done daily, but with 42 thousand testing positive in one day we must take notice. In the last 7 days there have been 31 thousand more positive results than the previous week. That’s a 13% rise.

Deaths reported were 181 yesterday and 136 today. There were 788 deaths in the last 7 days a rise of just 18 or 2.3%.

Hospital admissions in a single day were not significantly different. 754 were admitted on 9th October. Similarly, those in hospital remain steady. 7,011 in hospital yesterday and 780 of those were on a ventilator.

Immunisations for all over 12 show 49.25 million first doses done, that’s 85.6% and 45.23 million 2nd doses or 78.7%. There are still no signs of figures for third doses being released.

The highest case rate in the UK is in Trafford Manchester with over 2,000 cases in a week and the case rate 845.6 per 100k of the population. Second highest was Wellingborough Northants with 780/100k of population Third was Barrow in Furness with 514 cases per 100k. There are 377 Local Authority areas in the UK and 73% have shown a rise in cases this week and only 27% have fallen.

It is totally unacceptable that our leading doctors and scientists are now being targeted with hate mail, threats and even violence. Please be peacemakers whenever you can. I am disappointed with the near collapse in General Practice as it used to be. Perhaps the relaxing in the two-metre rule guidance will ease things more in the surgeries.

Remember we are only a resistant mutation away from big problems. This winter is going to be tough, but do not believe the scaremongering we are seeing in news outlets. Please go on taking sensible precautions, using facemasks and social distances, remember to wash down surfaces and hands with an alcohol-based antiseptic.

We must be responsible in our care for others and for ourselves, so please stay safe.

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