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NHS bosses could have prevented ‘chaos and panic’, Lancet editor says

The NHS disputes Richard Horton’s claim that numerous warnings were issued to the NHS but were not heeded.

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An emergency department nurse during a demonstration of a coronavirus pod (Michael Cooper/PA)

An emergency department nurse during a demonstration of a coronavirus pod (Michael Cooper/PA)

An emergency department nurse during a demonstration of a coronavirus pod (Michael Cooper/PA)

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 wrote in The Lancet that numerous warnings were issued to the NHS but these were not heeded, but his claims were branded inaccurate by the NHS.

He cited an example from his journal on January 20, 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.”

He added that “The result has been chaos and panic across the NHS”.

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.

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.”

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 comeRichard Horton, The Lancet

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The UK’s science-led action plan is led by global experts in the principles of infectious disease control. We have followed a clear plan, underpinned by scientific evidence, to contain, delay, research and mitigate the outbreak.

“We acted swiftly to contain the spread of the virus and our world-class surveillance, including intensive contact tracing and quarantining of early cases, helped to slow it significantly – and targeted contract tracing continues.

“We have tested well over 100,000 people and have already set out plans to increase testing capacity to 25,000 a day.

“The NHS has been mobilising for months and we are working around the clock to give the NHS and the wider social care sector the equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak. On Thursday alone over 21 million facemasks, 9 million aprons, 20 million gloves and 700,000 eye protectors were delivered to frontline workers.”

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