Doctors warn of winter ‘triple whammy’

Dr Chaand Nagpaul has warned of the impact of ‘the triple whammy’ of the non-coronavirus backlog, the ongoing risk of a second spike and winter pressures.

In a speech delivered to grassroots doctors and medical students this morning, the chair of council at the British Medical Association said that citizens ‘must no longer be punished from a failure to properly resource our health service’, calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to fulfil ‘the promise of his words and gives the NHS ‘whatever it needs’.

As the NHS entered the pandemic without sufficient capacity, regular services were forced to be halted during the pandemic, during which it became ‘primarily a national coronavirus service’. As a result, an estimated 12,000 patients died during the pandemic from non-coronavirus causes.

During the speech, Nagpaul emphasised the need for clear and consistent public messaging, and adherence to infection control measures and ‘a fit for purpose test and trace system in the here and now with capacity, agility and accessibility’ to identify those with the infection and stop further spread.

His speech reflected on the last six months – including the tragic loss of healthcare staff and the virus’s disproportionate impact on BAME healthcare workers and communities – and consider the lessons learned and how the NHS can rebuild for the future.

Nagpaul said: “The pandemic was a shock to the world, but as coronavirus reached our shores, our overstretched NHS already had record waits for operations, cancer treatments and GP appointments. We had 10,000 unfilled doctor vacancies, and only a quarter of Germany’s critical care beds.

“This lack of capacity forced the NHS to halt so many services during the pandemic, resulting in collateral damage to millions of neglected patients. More than 10 million fewer patients attended hospital for operations or clinic appointments between April and June compared to recent years2. In March alone 50 per cent fewer patients were treated in A&E for heart attacks. Indeed, for over three months we didn’t have a National Health Service but primarily a national Covid service.

“The BMA blew the cover on this hidden impact of the pandemic which in part explains the tragic levels of excess mortality in the UK with an estimated 12,000 of these deaths being attributed to non-Covid causes. The triple whammy of the non-Covid backlog, the ongoing risk of a second spike, and winter pressures makes it imperative that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak fulfils the promise of his words and gives the NHS ‘whatever it needs’. The citizens of this nation must no longer be punished from a failure to properly resource our health service.”

The BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting, held remotely for the first time, is held as the number of daily cases in the UK continues to exceed 3,000, and as a BMA survey reveals that a second peak of coronavirus in England is doctors’ biggest fear this winter – with 86 per cent who responded saying the outcome was likely.

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