Top medical journalist explains why PM must scrap Christmas Covid rules

15 December 2020, 14:00 | Updated: 15 December 2020, 15:10

By Fiona Jones

The Health Service Journal editor explains to LBC why he has partnered with the British Medical Journal in a joint editorial urging the Government to scrap Christmas Covid relaxation.

In their second collaboration in a century, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and Health Service Journal (HSJ) have called for the Prime Minister to scrap the Christmas rule relaxation, as London and parts of the south join the areas of England already in Tier Three.

The journals warn that hospital bed capacity will be overwhelmed if there is a festive relaxation, branding the decision to allow household mixing "rash" - especially ahead of what they predict to be a "third wave."

They say a third wave would hit non-Covid treatments hardest, as it “could wipe out almost all the reductions in waiting times for elective procedures achieved in the past 20 years”.

This corroborates with the Labour leader Keir Starmer, who has also demanded an urgent review into the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas.

Read more: What are the Christmas rules in tier 3?

The editorial has evoked some strong Twitter responses, with one reader branding it "grave reading."

HSJ editor Alastair McLellan told Shelagh Fogarty that the decision to collaborate on this urgent plea came after they "observed a really really significant increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19."

Mr McLellan continued: "When the Government planned on a Christmas break, it had assumed reasonably that the Covid load on the NHS would be getting less as a result of the restrictions they placed over the autumn. But unfortunately it hasn't turned out that way.

"More and more people are getting Covid, more and more people are ending up in hospital."

Shelagh countered that Health Secretary Matt Hancock might respond to that argument by pointing out that London, parts of Hertfordshire and Essex have been moved into Tier Three for that very reason.

Mr McLellan believed that this action is not enough: "Yes, he's put London and those areas in to Tier Three and in six or so days' time, we'll be allowing household mixing.

"The Tier Three restrictions, when they have been in place, the results have been very mixed to say the least. Kent, which was placed in Tier Three at the start of December, is seeing infections and hospitalisations soaring away."

The latest figures show the number of confirmed cases daily in the UK is 18,815, with the number of overall deaths exceeding 64,000 - Shelagh asked whether the Prime Minister needs to make a tough decision about Christmas.

"I think he has an opportunity to say the facts have changed and therefore I have changed my mind, which is a very reasonable and pragmatic approach which I think most people would understand," said Mr McLellan.

He pointed out that the PM, if he reversed the Christmas relaxation, will probably "have the support of the Treasury" because if household mixing does occur over the festive period then there is likely to be a severe lockdown in January and February with the resulting economic impact.

He added that as well as January and February being the toughest time for the NHS generally, they are also in the process of rolling out a national vaccine programme which will use even more resources.