BMA accuses government of 'negligence' as Javid rejects move to 'Plan B' amid rising cases

Urgent action is needed to prevent a ‘real risk’ of the NHS being overwhelmed this winter, the BMA has warned, after the government said the NHS was not yet under unsustainable pressure and ruled out an immediate change in approach amid rising cases of COVID-19.

Downing Street press conference (Photo: Toby Melville/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Downing Street press conference (Photo: Toby Melville/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul accused the government of taking ‘its foot off the brake’ and giving the impression that the pandemic is ‘behind us’, despite ‘unacceptable rates of infection’ which mirror those seen in March - when the country was in lockdown.

Dr Nagpaul’s comments come after health and social care secretary Sajid Javid told the public that the government would hold off implementing its ‘Plan B’ strategy to tackle rising coronavirus cases, even though he predicted that daily cases could reach 100,000.

Mr Javid, who urged people to come forward for their COVID-19 vaccinations, said pressure on the NHS was not yet unsustainable - a claim rejected by health professionals and the BMA. He also announced the government had agreed deals for two new antiviral treatments that can be used to treat COVID-19 infection.

Rising COVID infections

A total of 49,139 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on 20 October, with cases reaching over 40,000 in the last eight days. There were 179 deaths recorded on 20 October, and hospitalisations are also approaching 1,000 a day.

Responding to a speech by the health and social care secretary, Dr Nagpaul called on the government to act swiftly to save lives and protect NHS services. He said: ‘It is wilfully negligent of the government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection.

‘While new treatments are always welcome, the government itself has said these will not be available to patients until at least the end of the year, but urgent action is needed now to stem the scale of suffering and the real risk of overwhelming the NHS.

‘It’s vital that the government does everything to ensure it is made as simple and easy as possible for people to receive their booster, or even their first and second jab, especially in groups where uptake is lower. However, relying on the vaccination programme alone without other measures will not be sufficient to prevent rising infection rates, illness and deaths, given that no vaccine is 100% effective.’

NHS 'exceptionally busy'

Dr Nagaul added: ‘We are rapidly approaching a position where, yet again, the government is delaying for too long, and equivocating over taking action. This is the time to learn the lessons of the past and act fast, or else we will face far more extreme measures later.’

UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries told the conference that the NHS was kicking off the winter at a ‘really high level’ of coronavirus cases, revealing that the R-rate was currently somewhere between 0.9 and 1.1.

NHS England national medical director Dr Stephen Powis also admitted that the NHS had endured a ‘very tough summer’, with services feeling ‘exceptionally busy’. The health and social care secretary, however, insisted that current pressure on the NHS was not unsustainable and that the service was not overwhelmed. But many health professionals and experts disagreed on Twitter.

Earlier this month the BMA warned that the viability of general practice this winter is in doubt because the vast majority of measures in the government’s 'support package' offers no real help to practice teams.

More than nine in 10 GPs said the government's access plan is an 'unacceptable' response to the current crisis facing general practice, with BMA leaders preparing for an emergency meeting within days.

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