With an evolving Covid-19 virus epidemic, on 1 March the UK health secretary released a press statement setting out a government “battle plan” that included the emergency registration of retired health professionals to allow them to come back to work in the NHS. This message has been repeated a number of times by MPs in the ensuing few days in an effort to reassure the public that the NHS will have the capacity to care for them.
However, this couldn’t be further from reality. There will be no Dad’s Army-style workforce saving us from an imminent disaster, no cavalry on horseback coming over the hill armed with their expert knowledge and skills. This workforce is lost, never to return. Why would any nurse or doctor who had survived a lifetime on the frontline want to return?
These retirees are at the very age where they become more susceptible. Most retirees at this stage will be stocking up their shelves in their nuclear bunkers, not wanting to put themselves at considerable risk looking after infected patients.
Over the last 20 years or more the NHS has become reliant on doctors giving extra capacity by working weekends and evenings to keep the NHS in a status quo. However, over the last 18 months a considerable amount of capacity in the NHS has been lost due to a poorly thought out pension policy, which penalises senior staff from doing this extra work. Many clinicians have simply retired or dramatically cut back on their clinical workload.
Extra capacity in the NHS must be urgently found for this current crisis as we are already running on empty. We must make the most of our current active workforce. Wednesday’s budget must unshackle us from this crippling government policy. Tinkering will not suffice, because people’s lives will depend on it. Get it wrong and the consequences are uncomfortable to contemplate.
Dr Pete Ford
Consultant anaesthetist, Royal Devon and Exeter hospital
• The chancellor has promised to give the NHS “whatever it needs” to cope with the coronavirus outbreak (Chancellor expected to loosen Javid’s rules, 9 March). Sadly, “whatever it needs” is precisely what has been dismantled and destroyed by Tory policies over the past decade-plus. Adequate provision of NHS hospitals, beds, facilities and experienced doctors, nurses, health workers and carers cannot be conjured up overnight. There is no magic healthcare tree, not even down the back of the sofa.
Dr Brigid Purcell
• In view of the possible increase in the need for treating people with the virus, and the concern about the beds and staff available in the NHS to do so, I wonder what the role of private hospitals will be? Is there not a case for the government passing emergency legislation to use the skilled staff and facilities of the private sector if necessary?
• Polly Toynbee (Even a starved NHS is still our best defence, 10 March) is right to point to austerity as a possible factor in our lack of ability to deal with a widespread outbreak of coronavirus. One of the major issues for already overstretched councils is that the government still hasn’t got around to confirming public health budgets for the new financial year starting on 1 April, meaning that some councils have been unable to recruit to vacant posts or take on additional staff to deal with the crisis. This scandal smacks of chaos in the government.
• I have a suggestion to calm the panic over the dangers of the coronavirus. If we simply rename it “austerity” then – for the government at least – the deaths would be nothing to worry about.
• Boris JohnsonThe is apparently not concerned about coronavirus reaching 10 Downing Street. Neither am I.
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