Consultant enlightens James O'Brien on measures UK should have taken in lockdown

8 October 2020, 11:44

By Fiona Jones

James O'Brien was enlightened by this consultant who explained the three goals for the NHS the UK should have concentrated on over the last six months in a powerful conversation.

Caller Mark from Camden is consultant in the NHS and before the pandemic the service was already "on its knees."

"Then along came this threat of a disease that not only had a risk of killing people but actually in terms of burden on the healthcare system, had an enormous risk of creating a large volume of unwell people seeking medical advice, and a large portion of people who were worried enough to want to seek medical advice," Mark said.

He explained the purpose of the lockdown was to protect the NHS: "What we should also have been doing the last six months was increasing the capacity to manage those people who are unwell."

He said that people often compare death rates of coronavirus with other diseases, "but we're completely ignoring the ten times and hundred times more people who present to hospital unwell...and the capacity to manage that is essentially no greater now than it was in January."

Mark agreed with James that this failure to increase NHS capacity is a failure of leadership; James summarised that Mark is saying the UK could have done three things: increase NHS capacity, simultaneously locking people down to protect it, and create an effective test and trace system.

"I'm sorry to say the Nightingales hospitals are...red herrings," Mark said, "how many 4,000 bedded hospitals do we have in this country? The answer is none. I have 1,000 hospitals and 10,000 staff. If we were going to set up a 4,000 bed hospital, we'd need a huge number of staff.

"They talk about building Nightingale hospitals, we didn't build them, we installed infrastructure into existing buildings and then we didn't use them.

"When we tried to get people in to those hospitals, we were required to also send staff with the patients which we could not do because we already had limitations on the staff we had," Mark said.

He said instead of building sheds with beds in them, the UK should have used the hospital infrastructure and spending six months to enhance it.

James asked why the UK does not seem to have the test and trace system working on a scale that at first glance many other countries do.

He responded: "It's either a conspiracy or incompetence, it's usually the latter...I think it's just been overwhelmed and not having the competence, your phrase: clarity and leadership."

Mark told James that this has been an "extremely hard year" for his staff and at the moment the hospital is at full capacity.

"We've had patients in our emergency department for over 24 hours, we've got ambulances that we couldn't offload, we've got reduced hospital capacity due to social distancing...we've actually reduced our bed base over the last six months rather than increase it," Mark said.

"I spend half my time supporting our staff...everyday is an emotional rollercoaster," he said.

James remarked that despite asking him how he was, the NHS consultant spoke solely about his staff; James intimated it spoke volumes about the notion of clarity and leadership in a powerful way.