Surge Capacity – what if COVID-19 overwhelms the NHS?

Later this week, I will be starting night shifts on site at one of the busiest NHS hospitals in London. The NHS is close to hitting the “surge capacity” mentioned in an Official Sensitive report of the Health Department – and I need to bring this to your attention because the healthcare establishment is keeping remarkably quiet. For many years, we have lived in a so-called democracy, where people exercised their political rights by voting on questions after campaigns of misinformation, disinformation, or simply no information. This was sustainable until the COVID-19 crisis, but we now face the reality that transparency is not an ideal during a pandemic, it is a necessity.

Our political leaders are not very good with transparency, because they do not live in the “real world” of hard consequences that we normal mundane citizens inhabit. Unfortunately this is as true for many leaders of our medical establishment – who have long since had their Hippocratic Oaths sullied by the allure of political gratification or ineffective healthcare leadership, which have turned out to be much the same thing

I will talk more on transparency later, but it’s worth pointing out that an authentic healthcare crisis has finally revealed how palpably ineffective our political healthcare leaders are. Their woeful inaction has contrasted dramatically with the quietly heroic NHS staff working on the ground. The NHS’s true leaders are on the frontline treating patients, not in the Royal Colleges, not in Skipton House and certainly not in BMA House. I resigned from one of a handful of national seats on BMA Council on 11 April 2020.

Both the BMA’s and NHS England’s respective boards of directors remain remarkably reticent about the unprecedented crisis which threatens to envelope the NHS in the next few weeks: ICU beds in London are currently filling up fast with COVID-19 patients. Perhaps more seriously, the Health Service Journal reported that my local NHS Trust had 33% Covid-positive beds on 21 December, and my personal experience is that – unlike the first wave – large numbers of NHS staff are being tested COVID-positive. Worse still, the pandemic has been trending sharply upwards during recent weeks, and we are fighting blind for the next few critical days because reporting mechanisms and NHS staff testing are suspended over the Christmas holidays. 

Instead of raising the alarm about what (predictably) lies ahead, healthcare leaders have followed the Government’s self-congratulatory vaccine narrative, or made irrational public statements defending the medical establishment’s lack of transparency. Few have had the courage or independence of mind to speak up in the public interest. 

We may be heading towards NHS surge capacity and population triage – in other words, refusing NHS care to large numbers of sick patients. We need to inform the public urgently before we reach that point.

Let’s be clear: There is no excuse for secrecy during a pandemic.

The Institute for Government have clearly stated in their recent report that lack of transparency has a negative effect on public understanding, and in turn on public compliance with the Government’s COVID-19 strategy. 

Our own legal case for full disclosure of the Cygnus Reports has been a timeline of evasion by a Government which clearly does not feel obliged to follow its own guidelines or best scientific practice recommending transparency when dealing with a public healthcare emergency. The Government scorned the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and denied our request for information for several months, while at the same time arguing that a judge should reject our application for Judicial Review because the FOIA was more appropriate, then encouraged us to withdraw from legal action by affirming they did not hold a secret report on NHS surge capacity and population triage, then – when the Telegraph reported in December 2020 that they did hold the secret report – suggested that we start over again by making a new FOIA request.  

Meanwhile, over 80,000 British people have “COVID-19” written on their death certificates. How many more will die before we are allowed to learn from the data which could have helped prevent many of those deaths?

3 thoughts on “Surge Capacity – what if COVID-19 overwhelms the NHS?”

  1. David and Joan Fryer

    The UK is corrupt and undemocratic due to the monumental ineptitude of this neoliberal ultra right wing Conservative government. Historically the Conservative Party, especially its right wing, have been against the National Health Service – serving the people since the day of its inception – purely because of political ideology. Perhaps if the corrupt Tory governments hadn’t abolished the system of trainee nurses having to finance their own medical education more young people would be attracted to this very worthy profession. It beggars belief that this appalling system is tolerated in a so called modern, caring democratic country, in fact it is downright disgrace and shameful. This Tory government has nothing but contempt for ordinary people but unfortunately these people are oblivious to this fact due to believing the fake propaganda they are fed in the right-wing Murdoch media.

    Tory politicians since 2010 have sent many people to their early death beds due to their austerity cuts in preparation for Brexit and also ditching the Cygnus report because profit comes before people. They forget that one day their death beds will await them, so hopefully when that day comes they will spare a thought for all those they sent to theirs.

  2. It is hard to believe that one of the new hospitals Boris Johnson boasted about , is planned to have 50 fewer beds ( 5 wards) fewer than the existing Whipps Cross Hospital. The populstion in this east London COVID hotspot is increasing, there are tower blocks going up NOW on every bit of land. And 15,000 more homes in the coming 10 years.

    The planners say we don’t need hospital beds any more because patients can be treated in the community ( by whom is not diclosed), have zoom consultations with doctors and benefit from modern surgical techniques . And women can give birth at home! Is this planned community triage ? The experts say there will be new pandemics in the future , maybe at or shortly after the new Whipps Cross Hospital is built . Is it outlandish to suggest our leader plan for the worst eventualities while we hope for the best.

  3. This article plays to the institional secrecy that afflicts all civil servants and other public agencies. Thorough Reform is required and the chances of getting it are zilch.

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