Our glorious leaders never admitted they were making a mistake even if people’s lives were at stake and their policies risked the collapse of the NHS.
“Does he bring any value at all?” That was a question raised by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock during the pandemic and whilst the question is valid, the one posing the question is the one many of us may think should instead have been the subject.
Sadly, while lockdown went on for too long (I’d say about two years too long) the outing of those taking what looked like masochistic pleasure in our incarceration was all too short. But what we have been able to glean from the release of some 100,000 WhatsApp messages is that we were governed by politicians, civil servants and advisors with little scientific understanding and even less of a vertebral column.
But perhaps, it also shows that as a nation we were also to blame for what befell us and the devastating consequences which closing down the country for such a long period of time caused.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case urged ministers to be “brutally honest” with people when discussing the policy of lockdown and, perhaps if they were, or we had not been like the grasshopper who sang all summer, we could have emerged the other side of the pandemic with a functioning economy and without a health service which is so bad, people travel to war zones to expedite treatment.
Full lockdowns optimise our society for tackling the Covid R rate – but they are terrible for other outcomes (non-Covid health, jobs, education, social cohesion, mental health etc.)
Not my words, but those of the most senior civil servant in the UK and the policy advisor to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
If you tie up the levers of production and ban people from working, thus halting the supply chain, then prices rise. It’s the most basic economics.
At the same time, if you pay people to do nothing then not only do they become used to living the life of some reclusive regency fop but they can also ensure demand remains buoyant. Coupled with reduced supply, it leads to inflation – also known as the ‘cost of living crisis’ by people who supported the policies which caused it.
I don’t believe many of the public didn’t know this but fear of being called a covid denier or being accused of wanting people to die could have led people to remain silent and batten down the hatches for the inevitable storm.
MPs certainly felt that they would have more of a battle persuading us we did not need to remain at home or have less draconian rules.
Let’s now have a look at another risk raised by Mr Case: Health. There have been claims made that the current state of our health service is due to ‘underfunding’ but let’s knock that on the head right here with a few statistics. Total health expenditure in the UK in 2020 was £257.6 BILLION, equating to £3,840 per person and 12 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 9.9 percent in 2019.
Total health expenditure in 2021 is estimated at £277bn – an increase in nominal terms of 7.4 percent from 2020 and 7.1 percent accounting for inflation.
A quick glance through the specialist media in healthcare and you find where a lot of this money is going. One investigation by the Health Service Journal found two-thirds of people working on the Government’s flagship hospital building programme are staff supplied by external consultancies.
Another case shows a £13m contract awarded to a consulting firm by NHS England to “help merge its national directorates and regional teams with those of NHS Digital and Health Education England.”
Meanwhile, the waiting list for hospital treatment rose to a record 7.2m in January 2023 and the 18 week treatment target has not been met since 2016.
The proportion of patients waiting over 12 hours after a “decision to admit” – i.e the patient needs to stay in hospital on a ward – has increased substantially over the past two years.
And despite the number of people attending A&E remaining similar to pre-pandemic levels, the proportion of people spending more than four hours in the ED reached a new high of 50.4 percent in December 2022.
And for anyone wanting cancer treatment, well only 54.4 percent of patients waited under 62 days for treatment, measured from the urgent GP referral, compared with the target of 85 percent.
It’s not a funding issue: it’s the crippling inefficiencies and the inevitable consequence of putting a creaking health service already on life support (sorry – OUR NHS) above the lives of the people who pay for it and whom it is meant to serve.
Just remind yourselves – we cancelled oncology treatments because of a virus with a mortality rate of, to quote Chris Whitty, one percent.
We were warned this would happen, but as we can see from those WhatsApp messages, future planning wasn’t high on the list of priorities.
Indeed, it seems that the highest priority for our glorious leaders was making sure they looked like they knew what they were doing, even though we were dealing with a new virus and developments and best practice would be made daily.
In November 2020, when we were told that policy was “following the science”, Chris Whitty and other Government advisors were in favour of trialling five days of COVID testing as an alternative to 14 days of self-isolation for those who had come into contact with a person affected with COVID-19.
Those nine days for people who did not contract the virus would mean an additional nine days of working, perhaps going back to teaching in school or in mental health services and helping to treat people for the myriad of conditions which the Department of Health and Social Care appear to have forgotten existed.
It certainly would have been an extra nine days of trying to mitigate the pernicious effect of statutory social isolation and enforced inactivity which compulsory self-isolation meant.
Instead, in one of the most damning yet illuminating messages released, the proposal was quashed because it would “imply we’ve been getting it wrong.”
This small minded, vain, self-serving six-word message puts the idea that the Government were ‘following the science’ permanently in the BS box.
“This sounds very risky and we can’t go backwards,” The PPE graduate Hancock told the country’s Chief Medical Officer on being told the latest discussions from the scientific community.
In business, particularly in innovation, you learn to “fail fast” and learning from mistakes and applying new information to your strategy is both basic and essential.