By Richard Fullerton, Branch Chair. All blogs are the work of the respective author and do not necessarily represent branch views. (9/1/22)
2021 began with England entering its third full lockdown and we did not emerge from this fully until 19th July. After two more lockdowns we are now in ‘Plan B’ restrictions, introduced in December, and with it Vaccine Passports for larger venues. Thankfully the Omicron variant has proven not to be as virulent as previous ones, though it is much more infectious, and no further restrictions are in the pipeline at present. We seem to have come round to conditions that existed just before our first lockdown in March 2020. So what have we learned?
The vaccine program has been a tremendous success for which the government should get rightful credit. Setting up the Vaccine Taskforce and thus removing the NHS from vaccine development and procurement showed clear thinking by the Johnson government. However, I must qualify my praise because for some, the AstraZeneca dose was fatal as it caused blood clots
. A tragedy for a few families, but overall it has saved lives.
However, given the huge financial and social cost, it is right that the government’s COVID strategy should be questioned. Surely there was a better way?
The government’s strategy means we have suffered restrictions on our freedom that we didn’t even have in WWII, which has worrying implications for the future. Rishi Sunak has maxed the nation’s credit card to the tune of £370 billion (so far), borrowing is now 95% of GDP, and our national debt has reached £2.3 trillion, which the next two generations will be paying off. Jobs and viable businesses have been destroyed, especially in hospitality.
Meanwhile the health and social impact will not be properly understood for years. Clearly many cases of disease which would otherwise be preventable by early diagnosis e.g. cancer have been missed. Many thousands of people will die as a result, where normarily they would have survived or lived longer. Suicides and mental health will worsen.
I cannot but feel that there must have been an alternative to the hugely damaging lockdowns. And of course there was – Sweden. Its deaths per million population (dpm) from COVID are currently 1,504. This is higher than Germany but lower than Poland (2,640 dpm), Belgium (2,439 dpm), Italy (2,305 dpm), the UK (2,194dpm) and France (1,914dpm) (figures from Worldometer)
. It is doing very well with Omicron
. And crucially, its GDP is in a much better state than comparable countries because it had lighter Covid restrictions
. It is a shame that our Prime Minister did not follow his instincts instead of bowing to the pressure from the nutty professors who are only concerned with fighting the virus and do not balance the fight with other aspects such as the economy and people’s lives.
There is an argument that a short, brief lockdown was inevitable given our lack of understanding. And we were promised this – to ‘squash the sombrero’. But weeks turned into months. We were strung along by the scientists and government who, in reality, had no intention of ending lockdown anytime soon. It was the first instance of the government deliberately misleading the public ‘for our own good’ and has since been repeated. For instance, that the vaccines are 100% safe - which patently they are not for a very small number of people - or that they had no intention of introducing Vaccine Passports
. Trust is important, as Boris Johnson is finding out in non-COVID issues. See here for a very useful timeline of lockdowns and restrictions.
The deceit continued in a more subtle way. For a government that had railed on about the Remain camp’s mendacious ‘Project Fear’ campaign during the Brexit referendum, it was ironic that Johnson and co employed – and continue to employ – exactly the same methods. Mysterious sub-committees of SAGE, presumably working with experts from the Behavioural Insights Team (the ‘Nudge Unit’), and others, decided that the public must be frightened into submission. The COVID virus was portrayed as deadly and only following government diktat could save you from serious illness or death. In reality, the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR)
is 0.096%, comparable with flu. Hardly a deadly disease.
The effect of the behavioural teams had very negative effects. Neighbours snitched on neighbours. There was a kind of mini-hysteria whipped up. The virus could be anywhere that wasn’t sanitised. Masks should be worn at all times in indoor spaces (despite the nutty professors saying early on that the evidence for the effectiveness of masks was inconclusive
). In reality, masks became a form of social control
as much as viral control. An overwhelming feeling that Big Brother was watching you developed. We became a bio-security state, an open prison. The media used the climate of fear to scare us even more in their efforts to win readers and viewers, and the state broadcasting behemoth of the BBC was only too happy to parrot what the scare scientists briefed them to say. It was one socialist state organisation setting out to protect another socialist state organisation, the NHS. It is not inaccurate to say that the media is the real virus.
As a result of the joint effort by the government and the media, we now have population that has been lobotomised. Battered and brainwashed by an incessant campaign to get it to comply with the whims of an administration terrified of being seen to fail the NHS, the nation has been turned into a pliant flock of sheep, ever willing to yield to its master. The clapping may have stopped but state worship of the nation's health service is still expected, and any waverers of the new religion are reminded of this by the colourful 'Thank you NHS' banners that remain, and the incessant BBC propaganda. Resistance is limited to about 90 Tory MPs, some commentators in the right-of-centre press, and several thousand street protestors who sadly are dominated by anti-vaxxers, which drowns out the correct message - that of the need to protect civil rights and personal freedoms.
The irony is that the same population - the funders of the NHS - is being ill-served by the organisation that it has been tutored to worship. There are now nearly six million patients who are being forced to wait months on end to have serious conditions treated. We have been operating a National Covid Service instead of a National Health Service.
The restrictions on our lives were not just positively Orwellian. At other times they were non-sensical, and sometimes even ridiculous. Thus you could go to a pub or restaurant and must wear a mask when standing up or moving around, but seated you could take it off even if not socially distanced. A 'rule of six' was introduced, a seemingly random number. Singing in churches was discouraged(!). And you could have sex with your wife but you couldn’t go outside to play tennis with her. The government machine at last had the pretext it has desired all along to exercise more control of our lives, using the excuse that it was just 'following the science'.
All these restrictions were a modeller’s nirvana. And yet the modellers have been shown to be pessimists and downright wrong so many times. The latest example is their back-pedalling now over Omicron
- the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine produced a series of dire scenarios in which they warned Omicron could lead to between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths by the end of April. So far there have been less than 20 deaths
! Despite this, the nutty professors have revelled in their new power and influence. Some have become celebrities as a result and in the process enriched too, one presumes. The gloomier they were, the more they got asked to comment and thus the more they would get paid or the higher profile. Guaranteed it won't be long before one of them gets invited onto Strictly Come Dancing - and accepts.
Another curious feature of the first lockdown was why the government continued to keep our border open to flights from abroad, especially from the seat of the infection, China. Weeks and weeks passed whilst we were under the toughest restrictions and yet people were allowed to arrive here unchecked and allowed to mingle with the population. It was only later that quarantining was introduced from 8th June. This was non-sensical and hopefully will be censured in the public enquiry to come.
The whole strategy has been one of ‘protecting the NHS’ at all costs, as if the NHS IS England itself. But the NHS should be protecting US, not the other way round. In truth, we seem to have learned little within the past two years and one can guess what would happen should another virulent variant of the virus appears.
This pandemic has exposed the best and the worst in the NHS. The frontline staff have worked ceaselessly and are exhausted. But it’s clear that this ‘blob’, ever hungry for our cash, is a financial black hole that does not offer value for money. And the more money that is thrown at it, the less the return.
In April, National Insurance will rise by 1.25%. The Tories’ manifesto had promised no rise in NI. What is more is that this extra £12bn a year that the NI increase will provide (it gets migrated into a Health & Social Care Levy in April 2023) will not actually go towards social care for the first three years. No – you guessed it – it’s going straight into the NHS current account. Where much will be wasted because it is a grotesquely wasteful and badly run organisation. By socialists. I’ve no doubt also that after three years a lot will still be taken by the NHS, pleading poverty. So I predict that social care will still remain unsolved.
Showing his usual lack of moral courage, Johnson dodged tackling the issue of how to fund social care and went for the default – increasing taxes. What he should really have done is looked at other healthcare systems in Europe
and Japan to see how they pay for healthcare and social care. They use a mix of public and private treatment and they do not envy us for our NHS
like some would have you believe.
In a crisis where a lack of acute bed spaces dictated whether we could venture out from our homes, it is worth pointing out that the number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved over the past 30 years
, from around 299,000 in 1987/88 to 141,000 in 2019/20, while the number of patients treated has increased significantly. During this period, our population has also increased by at least 5 million since 2010!
As of 2017, out of a list of the number of beds per thousand people in advanced countries
, we were at 33 (out of a total of 39) with almost the lowest (2.54 beds per thousand). Contrast this with Germany in 4th place (8 bpt) and France in 12th place (6 bpt). In intensive care beds, in 2019 we had only 7.3 beds per 100K population. Compare this again with others
, such as Germany (28.2) and France (16.4). This despite the zillions poured into the NHS’ coffers.
In an effort to rapidly create more bed spaces in case our hospitals were overwhelmed in the early months of the pandemic in 2020, the government set up the Nightingale hospitals – seven in England. The sight of the chaos in northern Italian hospitals was enough to jolt it into action but apparently their set up was opposed by Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of the NHS, and the government eventually over-ruled him.
However, they were barely used
and were closed a year later. The total cost of these white elephants was, apparently, £530 million. Already severely short of staff before the crisis, the NHS could not provide staff to sites which were at distance from their existing hospitals. Strangled at birth by the NHS which feared a loss of control, they were destined never to be used.
Instead, the NHS created 25,000 bed vacancies in their hospitals by discharging elderly patients into care homes. However, initially they were not tested or quarantined, and there was a failure to understand that agency staff worked in more than one care home. As a result, care homes were ravaged by COVID and within a year, more than 30,000 care home residents died
within 28 days of testing positive for Covid, the equivalent of around one in 14 of the population of UK care homes.
This haste in creating bed capacity coupled with a cynical disregard for the welfare of the elderly by the NHS is one of the biggest scandals of the pandemic and will no doubt feature heavily in the enquiry.
Reform of the NHS cannot come sooner but no major political party has the courage to do this. Over 1.3 million people are employed by the NHS – it is the largest employer in Europe. And yet we are always short of doctors and nurses. Go figure. The NHS goes around the world immorally hoovering up trained doctors and nurses, often in developing countries where their skills are as needed as here. But it’s still never enough. One idea that certainly has potential is that of an NHS Reserve, similar to the Army Reserves. The program has been launched
but it remains to be seen whether this will work given that its ultimate manager will be…. the NHS.
Of the ‘regular’ NHS, one suspects that many employees are in jobs that have little effect in the delivery of frontline care. The waste we hear of
includes ‘diversity’ managers paid telephone number salaries
, expensive LGBT+ ‘away days’, art curators (!), excessive PR staff numbers and even climate change managers
The state of NHS manning is an analogy of the Vietnam war. At its peak in 1968, the USA had almost 550,000 military personnel in the country. Of these only about 50,000 were frontline troops, the rest being given the contemptuous sobriquet of 'Rear Echelon M*therf*ckers' (REMFs). Many of these were in support roles but many had no effect or role in furthering the war effort. NHS England, indeed the NHS in the other home nations, must somehow extricate itself from its ‘Vietnam’ situation and re-forge a new organisation - efficient, resilient, cost-effective and versatile so that it can face up to the challenges of the future. It’s time to reform the NHS and give both it and the nation’s finances a life-saving operation.