NHS bosses could have prevented 'chaos and panic' in system 'wholly unprepared for pandemic'

28 March 2020, 08:22

A ward in Milton Keynes hospital prepared for intensive care patients as coronavirus cases increase
A ward in Milton Keynes hospital prepared for intensive care patients as coronavirus cases increase. Picture: PA

By Megan White

NHS bosses could have prevented "chaos and panic" in a system left "wholly unprepared for this pandemic", the editor of a British medical journal has said.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said numerous warnings were issued to the NHS over coronavirus as early as January, but were not heeded.

He cited an example from his journal, pointing to a global epidemic: "preparedness plans should be readied for deployment at short notice, including securing supply chains of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, hospital supplies and the necessary human resources to deal with the consequences of a global outbreak of this magnitude."


Dr Horton said the Government's Contain-Delay-Mitigate-Research plan had failed.

He said: "It failed, in part, because ministers didn't follow WHO's advice to 'test, test, test' every suspected case. They didn't isolate and quarantine. They didn't contact trace.

"These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque.

"The result has been chaos and panic across the NHS".

Dr Horton's warning came as the UK saw its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths since the Covid-19 outbreak began, with a total of 759 deaths.

14,500 people have tested positive and hundreds of thousands more people are thought to be infected.

Dr Horton also expressed concerns over the Government's new Suppress-Shield-Treat-Palliate plan.

"But this plan, agreed far too late in the course of the outbreak, has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients that will soon come," he said.

Meanwhile, more than 18,000 doctors, nurses and other former NHS staff have volunteered to return to work to fight the virus.

In response, Professor Keith Willett, NHS Strategic Incident Director for Covid-19, said: "Actually the NHS declared a Level Four - the highest - National Emergency on January 30, the day before his magazine article that Dr Horton claims should have been the signal, and fully six weeks before the World Health Organisation itself declared coronavirus a pandemic.

"Since then the NHS has mobilised right across the country at every level - to free up 33,000 beds for coronavirus patients - a third of all hospital capacity. We've enabled 18,000 nurses and doctors to return to practice, supported by 730,000 new volunteers.

"And we've struck an unprecedented deal with the independent sector to use en bloc their 8,000 beds, as well as building three new Nightingale hospitals and procuring all available ventilators and clinical equipment.

"So in respect of our NHS responsibilities and response, the facts clearly speak for themselves."