"England's scientific bodies protected their turf instead of coordinating a response"

9 July 2020, 16:19

By Fiona Jones

Medical journalist Richard Horton told LBC why England failed to control coronavirus as successfully as other countries.

Thousands of workers whose jobs put them at a greater risk of contracting coronavirus will be tested even if they have no symptoms, the government has announced, with workers such as taxi drivers, cleaners and retail assistants will be part of the pilot.

Editor of Lancet medical journal Richard Horton told Shelagh while he was relieved asymptomatic cases were finally being focused on this move does not go far enough, partly explaining why England has failed to successfully diminish Covid-19.

"We really need to be testing in healthcare settings and that includes people who are working in long term health facilities, domiciliary workers. It's absolutely key that they're tested at least once, possibly twice a week if we're really going to get on top of community transmission," Mr Horton said, branding the lack of testing for care workers as "reckless."

"Our health workers and people who work in nursing care homes, they're at very high risk of developing Covid-19 and they may also unfortunately contribute to transmitting infections to other people. So they are absolutely critical to getting on top of this."

He told Shelagh the surveys that have been conducted thus far show that "as many as three-quarters of staff and residents in care homes may have no symptoms whatsoever so this asymptomatic story is not some small part of the pandemic, this is a big big story."

you had fiefdoms within thRichard Horton told Shelagh: "English NHS and social care system who were all vehemently protecting their own turf"
you had fiefdoms within thRichard Horton told Shelagh: "English NHS and social care system who were all vehemently protecting their own turf". Picture: LBC/PA

"One of the scandals of the last four months is that asymptomatic has been known about and discussed since the end of January and we just haven't got on top of this as quickly as we should," Richard Horton said.

Mr Horton replied that it was "sinister that the history of the last four months is being re-written and it's very important we get the history straight."

"Right from the beginning we were very anxious about the dangers of asymptomatic spread and this has been raised time and time again, and why it was important that from the very moment lockdown took place on 23 March, we should have been aggressively, not relying on some app, but building up test trace and isolate facilities within the NHS," he said.

Mr Horton explained that Scotland had focused on the later which is why "they have got ahead of the curve and England are behind the curve."

He cited the root of the cause to be the leadership of England's response, branding the scientific institutions themselves as some of the best in the world: "There wasn't a governance of response. We had Public Health England, we had Department of Health and Social Care, we've got all these different scientific committees, but there was no coordinating centre."

"The result was you had fiefdoms within the English NHS and social care system who were all vehemently protecting their own turf and Public Health England was one of them: it didn't want to expand testing it wanted to control testing," he said.

Conversely, Scotland had a control and command approach which allowed it to get ahead of the curve.