THE BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (BMA) says the Government is failing to grasp how serious a threat the current levels of Covid-19 illness pose to the NHS and to wider society.

The Association says it totally refutes a comment from the Prime Minister’s office on 11 April that Covid-19 should be “managed like any other respiratory illness”, when there is evidence that it is impacting people’s health and the NHS far more than normal, seasonal respiratory infections.

The BMA says that unless the Government puts in place measures to bring down infection rates, pressures on the NHS will escalate further, staff absence rates will continue to rise and millions of patients, already suffering waits of up to more than two years, will wait even longer.

The Association’s fears are supported by a survey of their members, in which 87 per cent of doctors who responded said the Government’s aims to reduce the waiting lists for elective care, investigations, and procedures using the existing workforce, were either mostly or entirely unachievable. Similarly, 87 per cent of respondents said they were not confident that people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, long-term physical and mental health issues, and those who are waiting for medical specialist care, will get the treatment they need before they become even more unwell.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: “It beggars belief that the Government thinks we can treat Covid-19 ‘like any other respiratory virus’, when its impact on people’s health and the NHS is manifestly far more damaging. The reality is that more than four million people were infected with Covid-19 last week, 1.7 million people are suffering long Covid, 20,000 patients are in hospital with the virus and over 1,000 people are dying each week. Health services are struggling with almost 200,000 NHS staff absent due to Covid-19 in just one week, resulting in patients facing last minute hospital and GP appointment cancellations.

“And now we have our members on the frontline telling us unequivocally they have little or no faith in the Government’s recovery plans.

“The Government is burying its head in the sand to the immediate threat of the virus to our healthcare services. NHS Trusts – like the Royal Stoke – are reintroducing measures to protect urgent cancer care, and NHS leaders in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are pleading with families to take home relatives in hospital. Ambulance services are also faltering, with waits of up to 22 hours, as emergency care plunges into crisis while politicians turn their backs. Doctors and healthcare professionals are unable to treat millions of patients stuck on waiting lists, some forced to suffer waits of longer than two years.

“It is clear that the result of the Government’s ‘Living with Covid’ strategy is failing to allow us to live with Covid-19. The Government’s abandonment of free testing is thwarting our ability to control the spread of the virus, with even business leaders now urging the Government to rethink and reverse its decision to prevent further harm to both healthcare and the economy.

“Vaccinations have undoubtedly made a huge difference but the uptake of the third booster is nowhere near as high as it should be and lags behind the level of uptake for first and second doses. Public messaging, encouraging people to get a jab, needs to continue, along with requiring simple protective measures, which have no impact on civil liberties – such as mask wearing on public transport and in confined spaces – and ventilation and air filtration in public and work settings.

“Unless this Government acts now to bring down infection rates and address the staffing crisis with realistic proposals, the risk of harm to patients will only increase.”

A total of 1,194 doctors took part in the survey which was open between 6 and 8 April 2022.

* Source: British Medical Association