Medical journal editor-in-chief slams NHS bosses, saying they could have prevented ‘chaos and panic’

The Canary

CORRECTION (16:10 2 April 2020): this story originally stated that 114,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK; this was incorrect. The correct figure at the time of printing should have been 14,000.

NHS bosses could have prevented “chaos and panic” in a system left “wholly unprepared for this pandemic”, Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of British medical journal the Lancet, has said.

Horton wrote in the Lancet that numerous warnings were issued to the NHS but these were not heeded. He cited an example from his journal on 20 January, 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.

Horton laid out the reasons for why the government’s Contain-Delay-Mitigate-Research plan to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had failed:

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”.

Horton’s warning came as the UK saw its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths since the coronavirus outbreak began. Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock said they’ve tested positive for the virus, while frontline testing of NHS workers has yet to begin.

A total of 759 people have now died in UK hospitals after being diagnosed with coronavirus. Meanwhile around 14,000 have tested positive, and hundreds of thousands more people are thought to be infected.

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

Meanwhile, more than 18,000 doctors, nurses and other former NHS staff have volunteered to return to work to fight the virus. The en masse effort came after NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens was forced to defend his track record heading the service, with the country’s proportion of intensive care units before the crisis among the lowest in Europe.

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