While people are still processing the news about Dominic Cummings’s attendance at SAGE meetings, it emerged via a confidential Cabinet Office briefing leaked to the Guardian that Ministers were warned last year the UK must have a robust plan to deal with a pandemic virus and its potentially catastrophic social and economic consequences. This leak comes as the UK’s hospital death toll from coronavirus exceeded the 20,000, which seemed unreal weeks ago and which reinforces the failure to act upon the 2016 Cygnus Report.
There have been frequent complaints about lack of up to date statistics on care home and community deaths but I think another statistic we need is the number of deaths attributed to people afraid to attend hospital with other life threatening complaints, cancelled surgery, halted treatment and mental health crises. It’s not just their own fear of COVID stopping them going to hospital but government messages of ‘don’t overwhelm the NHS. Another public health communications fail.
(Pause for a triumphant shriek as my tweet about this was read out on Any Answers!). But we have to think about the amount of stress and anxiety for each and every individual waiting for treatment and surgery or worried about their mental health. They could be feeling very disempowered at this time.
It must be challenging for the government when one of ‘their own’, former Chancellor Philip Hammond in this case, joins in the clamour for a lockdown exit plan for the sake of the economy. He warned that the country could not afford to wait until a vaccine had become available before resuming more normal economic activity.
There are two interesting programmes today on Radio 4: one about emerging from lockdown and what we will emerge to (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000hmzl) and a profile of the Health Secretary Matt Hancock (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000hmxq). These Profile programmes are only 15 minutes but pack in a surprising amount of useful information about key public figures. Very revealing it was, too, eg around age 10 he said he wanted to be PM, remarkably similar to his boss, who wanted to be ‘king of the world’. Such ambition didn’t seem to be justified by his former headmaster’s comments, though, who said that he wasn’t head boy material.
The lockdown programme looked at strategies in different countries. The Korean Dr Kim says COVID19 won’t just disappear – there will be further outbreaks. Meanwhile, a British pandemic expert was clear that when this is over we will not ‘go back to normal’ eg physical distancing will remain. She stressed the need for policymakers to ‘be transparent, keep the message to the public clear and keep it simple’ – the opposite of what has actually been done.
You may have heard how important exercise is for mental health and a key advocate for this message is ‘Body Coach’ Joe Wicks, who volunteered at lockdown to be ‘the nation’s PE teacher’. During the week he does a live workout (on his YouTube channel) and is so engaging and positive it would be hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t be motivated by it. People tune in from all over the world, as far afield as Nigeria, Dubai and Moscow. Having done these for several weeks, I’ve decided at weekends I’ll catch up with the earlier ones I missed. This is his first, for 23 March, where he explains what his aims are, including getting people to feel much better and says it always makes him feel happier. He also offers others eg a ten minutes one for seniors.