Chronic neglect of NHS led to tragic impact of pandemic

Dr Chaand Nagpaul has claimed that chronic neglect of the NHS before the pandemic contributed to the excessive and tragic impact of the pandemic on the health of the nation and on the death toll.

Addressing the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting, Nagpaul, the BMA Chair of Council, said that all parts of the NHS had been starved, with insufficient hospital and community facilities and almost 90,000 staff vacancies even before the pandemic struck. It was an NHS, already in crisis, with waiting lists at an all-time high and record waits for cancer treatment. To create capacity for patients with coronavirus, other services shut down for months resulting in millions suffering.

As well as what he called ‘chronic neglect’, Nagpaul also criticised the government for a lack of preparedness and flawed thinking, especially the huge inconsistencies in the government’s decision making throughout the pandemic. He highlighted the decision to abandon all restrictions on 'Freedom Day' as a ‘gamble’ that has contributed to almost 40,000 hospitalisations and over 4,000 deaths since 19 July alone. Nagpaul said that the government mantra of 'living with Covid’ belies the daily reality of thousands who are seriously ill including those dying from the virus.

Nagpaul also pointed out that whilst over a year ago the BMA called for a rapid inquiry so that lessons could be learned before a second wave, the call was dismissed by government ministers. This meant that when the country plunged headlong into another wave of illness, hospitalisations and deaths, pushing the NHS to the brink of collapse, we hadn't learned what could have been vital lessons from the previous six months.

Nagpaul said: "We will not accept a return the old pre-pandemic NHS, which was so patently under-staffed and under-resourced, where 9 in 10 doctors are afraid of medical errors daily. We will not accept an NHS running at unsafe bed occupancy and without spare capacity.

"We will not accept an NHS unprepared for a pandemic, without vital PPE to protect the health and lives of health and care workers. We will not accept an NHS in crisis every summer, let alone every winter. We will not accept a nation bereft of public health staff, facilities and testing capacity, with ministers then paying billions to private companies who were unable to deliver."

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