COVID-19 in the UK. A Week in an Underprepared Nation
History will likely look back at the handling of the COVID-19 crisis by the UK Government as a tale of bumbling ministers, clerical errors, lame excuses, and a populace failed by a criminally undersupported National Health Service--and that's just the past week in a nutshell.
New research from the University of Huddersfield has starkly warned that the local authorities of the UK are unprepared for the sheer numbers of deaths likely to be caused by the spread of the COVID-19 novel strain of the coronavirus.
In a paper published in the journal Emergency Management Review, the authors warn that major increase in mortality rates and staff absences will mean a struggle to issue death certificates, leading to a bottleneck in burials and cremations, with mortuaries filled beyond capacity, adding that even if fatality rates are at the lower end of expectations — one per cent of virus victims — it is highly likely that death and bereavement services will be overwhelmed.
As well as analyzing the readiness of local authorities, the authors including Dr Julia Meaton, Dr Anna Williams and researcher Helen-Marie Kruger, drew on data from previous pandemics. Their findings are based on research conducted in 2019 which aimed to assess how well prepared the UK was to handle a potential flu pandemic.
This is by far from the first time that medical professionals have warned the UK authorities that their response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping that the globe is insufficient. Much of this criticism has focused on the UK authorities failing to secure sufficient medical equipment to handle the growing crisis.
When future generations look back at the handling of this crisis by Boris Johnston’s government they will likely be forced to navigate a litany of lousy excuses, u-turns, bluffs, under the table deals, incompetence and the collapse of the NHS after a decade of neglect. An NHS already at breaking point before the onset of a global pandemic and the health crisis it has wrought.
What follows are revelations of mishandling and blunders that have unfolded during just one week of this crisis.
Missed emails and missing ventilators
Even as the aforementioned paper was being published, the Government was facing accusations of failing to secure 25,000 ventilators — a potentially life-saving piece of equipment — from UK manufacturer Direct Access.
The Cheshire based company claim that it informed the UK Department of Health that it could secure the 25,000 ventilators and 50 million coronavirus testing kits, yet its e-mail went unanswered for two weeks. During this intervening period, Direct Access says that the equipment was purchased by other countries. Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove, has apologised for the error and promised to investigate the situation.
“No one seemed to be taking us seriously,” says Andy Faulkner, the manager of Topland, a Dubai firm helping Direct Access obtain ventilators, adding that the two companies offered the government 5,000 units a week over five weeks — but initially received no response. “They asked us to register on the ventilation website, which we did, and then waited another five days for any response.”
Faulkner concluded by saying that it could be as late as July before the companies could offer the NHS any further equipment, even were it to be ordered immediately.
“Brexit over breathing”
The error comes on the heels of the revelation that Johnson’s government had failed to enroll in the EU scheme to jointly obtain ventilators to avert the predicted shortfall over the following critical weeks.
The official line from Downing Street was initially that as they were no longer part of the European Union then it had been believed they could not be part of the scheme, an excuse so flimsy that the Independent referred to it as “Brexit over breathing.” Downing Street later clarified that the failure to register in the programme was a result of a communications mix-up. A claim that has been dismissed by Brussels.
On Friday a spokesperson for the EU made it clear that the 11-month transition period during which Britain makes its exit includes an allowance for the country to join in any “joint procurement” programmes. They continue: “The member states’ needs for personal protective equipment have been discussed several times in the meetings of the health security committee where the UK participated.
“At these meetings, the commission stressed its readiness to further support countries with the procurement of medical countermeasures if needed, so member states and the UK had the opportunity to signal their interest to participate in any joint procurements.”
Number Ten did state that they would take part in any future measurements to procure ventilators undertaken by the EU.
To many, this may be seen as an assurance that is both too little and too late. It is estimated that the UK will need 30,000 ventilators to deal adequately with the deepening COVID-19 situation. The NHS currently has an estimated 8,000 machines, with a further 8,000 expected to be ready for the end of April. A deeply worrying shortfall.
What has come as a shock to some, is that the Government has approached a manufacturer to produce ventilators, albeit one with no prior history in building medical devices and equipment.
Help from unusual sources
The company Dyson unveiled a prototype ventilator — the Co Vent — just last week, immediately garnering an initial order for 10,000 units from Westminister. The deal will be based upon the device passing tests from expert clinicians and health regulators, according to a spokesperson for Boris Johnson.
The involvement of the company, founded by billionaire Brexit-supporter and Tory-part donor James Dyson, has garnered a great deal of scepticism, with a representative from Penlon-part of the ventilator Challenge UK consortium — stating that it is deeply unrealistic to design a new ventilator and rapidly begin producing tens of thousands of the device.
There is, of course, some crossover between the ventilator and the machine that made Dyson a household name, the vacuum cleaner. Both machines are designed to pump air efficiently, and some of the parts are similar. If this doesn’t inspire much Dyson have employed the Technology Partnership — a company that employs some scientists with experience in designing medical interventions — to assist them. Dyson has also pledged to donate 4,000 Co Vent units globally to help fight against COVID-19, as well as promising to donate a further 1,000 devices to the UK.
Fortunately, the NHS is receiving help from a somewhat unexpected source to help tackle other shortages. A medical fetish website — MedFet Uk has donated its entire stock of disposable scrubs to the NHS after it was approached by procurement representatives.
“Today we donated our entire stock of disposable scrubs to an NHS hospital. It was just a few sets, because we don’t carry large stocks, but they were desperate, so we sent them free of charge,” the company said in a statement posted on their Twitter account.
Whilst the company has received rightful praise, it seems utterly terrifying that so many years of abuse, neglect, and cost-cutting measures by the Tory Government has left NHS is such dire need of essentials they have to appeal for help from a fetish website.
The MedFetUK Twitter statement went on to reflect this sentiment, concluding: “So when it’s all over…and the doctors, nurses and other staff have done an amazing job (as they undoubtedly will despite the circumstances)… let’s not forget, or forgive, the ones who sent the NHS into this battle with inadequate armour and one hand tied behind its back.”