Experts slam Tories for NHS cuts and systematic failures in coronavirus testing

Gabriel Scally
The Canary

A public health professor has claimed Conservative government cuts have “emaciated” the testing system and made the ability to track down coronavirus (Covid-19) cases more difficult.

Gabriel Scally, a former regional director of public health, said he was “very worried” about the country’s ability to get to the levels of contact tracers needed. Scally said 10 years ago it would have been possible – but cuts have damaged this.

His anger was in response to Conservative former Cabinet minister David Gauke’s defence of reductions in public spending. Gauke warned of an “even more difficult situation” without austerity as he tried to focus on resilience.

But the Bristol University professor told BBC Newsnight:

I think that’s nonsense if I may be so bold.

The resilience has been stripped systematically out of the system, you cannot, when a big problem like this hits, you can’t just reinvent things and put them back the way you wish they were.

If you make the system as lean and emaciated as it is there will not be the public health staff there, there will not be the health visitors, there will not be the environmental health officers and you can’t magic them up out of nowhere.

Simply testing key workers, health service workers and the over 65s really won’t cut it, so it needs to be a comprehensive programme

“Testing was absolutely critical, it hasn’t been handled properly”

Meanwhile, Paul Nurse, chief executive of biomedical research centre the Francis Crick Institute, labelled the government’s target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day “a PR stunt”. Speaking on BBC Question Time, Nurse said there was no visible strategy behind the 100,000 target:

It was, as far as I’m concerned, a bit of a PR stunt which has gone a bit wrong,

Where was the strategy under that? I haven’t seen a strategy under it. It just sounded good.

On April 2, health secretary Matt Hancock pledged to reach the target by the end of the month. However only 52,000 tests were carried out on Tuesday 28 April.

HEALTH Coronavirus
Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

Nurse added that by not mass testing healthcare workers regardless of whether they were showing symptoms, the government missed the opportunity to make hospitals safer:

If we had had local testing connected to local hospitals, we could have made hospitals a safe place…

(Instead) what we had is the potential for having care workers working on the wards, working with sick patients who were carrying the disease and weren’t being tested.

They had such restricted rules on who could be tested that they didn’t simply make the decision that we have to test everybody that is a frontline worker and, in particular, they wouldn’t test anybody who had no symptoms.

We were allowing potentially for frontline care workers to be on the wards potentially infecting people because we weren’t testing.

…Testing was absolutely critical, it hasn’t been handled properly.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Take a look at the death rate in Vietnam. We call ourselves an advanced country. We boast of being the fifth or sixth richest country on the planet. Yet Vietnam beats us hollow in dealing with a virus. The Tories are wrong about everything. The cuts have left the NHS operating at maximum day by day. That fits with bottom-line, capitalistic thinking, but it’s nonsense for a health service. Spare capacity is vital. Failing to act quickly was simple neglect and nonchalance. Virologists have been predicting this since 2003. As soon as the outbreak was known in China, we should have had serious containment measures and contact tracing. The outbreak should have been tackled in December and January. Abandoning contact tracing in March was madness. Also, this can’t be fought from the centre. There has to be devolution. Contact tracing needs to be carried out area by area. Funds and skills need to be made available at local level. Most of the deaths and the economic damage were avoidable. The grief and pain are entirely avoidable insanity. Just what you’d expect from Tories.

    2. Dear Canary ,
      Unfortunately this whole pandemic is piece by piece proving the whole neo Liberal 40 year’s approach wrong . That bias leads the Tories again and again to the wrong choices : Inappropriate Metropolitan centralisation , Absurd reliance on expensive computer based consultancy schemes wasting £Ms and ineffective (tracing bonanza , anyone ?) . An undeclared NHS destroy agenda , which has confused deliberate muddle and on the cheap funding . A constant and consistent failure to plan honestly
      Derek

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