Top York GP slams Government’s ‘panic’ over coronavirus response

A top York GP has launched a withering attack on the Government for its handling of the Covid crisis.

The government and health service leaders nationally effectively went into panic mode, says Dr David Fair of the Jorvik Medical Practice. “Everybody was expecting this huge wave of illness – this tsunami of illness,” he said.

The result was that many parts of the NHS virtually shut down when it came to treating anything but coronavirus. “The be-all and end-all of the NHS was Covid,” he said.

Many hospital managers were like ‘rabbits in the headlights’ as they followed instructions, Dr Fair said. “They were trying to discharge as many people as possible.” As a result, many patients – including cancer and heart patients – failed to get the treatment they needed and could have received. There is real evidence that, across the country, people died as a result, Dr Fair said.

Other services, such as physiotherapy, orthopaedic surgery, family planning and GUM (genitourinary medicine) closed down, and were slow to re-open. Waiting lists ‘ increased astronomically in York’ as a result, he said.

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York GP Dr David Fair

Hospital Accident and Emergency units remained open throughout the pandemic. But because of fear and lack of proper information, many patients were either unaware of this or too scared to attend. “They were waiting for patients to come, yet people who were having heart attacks were sitting at home thinking ‘I’d better not go in’,” Dr Fair said.

Responding to Dr Fair’s comments, York Hospital said in a statement today that it had been ‘required to cancel all non-urgent operations and appointments’ from March 2020 onwards as ‘part of the national response to the coronavirus outbreak’.

Straff had done an ‘incredible job’ in ‘exceptional circumstances’, a hospital spokesperson said. “Our emergency departments have remained fully open throughout to support urgent and emergency patients, and we continued with as many urgent services as possible, including for patients with cancer.”

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York Hospital: patients will face long waits for some non-emergency services and non-urgent operations

But the hospital warned that many patients would face long waits for some hospital services, because of the backlog built up and the need for social distancing and extra hygiene measures (see full statement below).

Dr Fair said there had been ‘total confusion’ as the country geared up to deal with coronavirus. Staff at his own practice were without PPE ‘for weeks’ in the early stages of the pandemic. “We struggled to get PPE, gloves and visors,” he said. “All GPs struggled.”

Dr Fair also criticised the government’s obsession with ‘vanity projects’ over getting the basics right.

A fortune was spent on expensive ‘Nightingale Hospitals’, many of which were scarcely used. “I don’t know whether a single patient was ever treated at Harrogate,” he said.

The whole ‘test and trace’ programme, meanwhile, was a complete ‘pig’s ear’, Dr Fair said. The government was determined to ‘reinvent the wheel’ he said. But there was no need to develop an expensive new ‘test and trace’ app that ultimately did not work – Germany already had a perfectly good one. And many of the tests carried out for test and trace were unreliable, Dr Fair said. “There have been tests that have not been done properly, by people who have not been clinically trained.”

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock: responsible for a ‘test and trace’ system that Dr Fair describes as a ‘pig’s ear’

Dr Fair said reports that many GPs were keen to leave the NHS were unsurprising. There was a real feeling of betrayal amongst NHS staff, he said – typified by the Government’s U-turn on exempting foreign nurses from the expensive ‘immigrants health surcharge’. “Boris promised to rescind it but then he never did.”.

Dr Fair said one of the few positive things was the way members of the public rallied round behind health workers. “With ‘clap for carers’, NHS staff and front-line workers were venerated almost as heroes and martyrs,” he said.

But even that is passing. “There have been quite a lot of patients abusing doctors, nurses and face-to-face staff such as receptionists.”

Dr Fair said he still did not know what the future held.

Yes, he said, the death rate was down. But that may be only because elderly and vulnerable people are still shielding. Cases are surging among younger people – and that is likely to increase as schools and universities go back.

“Is there going to be a rise in elderly cases in 3-4 weeks time as younger people pass it on to family members?”

He said he was still unconvinced by the prospects for an effective vaccine.

“I don’t think we’re going to get a vaccine this year – and there is no certainty that we will ever get one.”

HOSPITAL STAFF DID AN INCREDIBLE JOB

In a statement issued in response to York GP Dr David Fair’s comments, York Hospital said it was ‘required to cancel all non-urgent operations and appointments’ from March 2020 onwards as ‘part of the national response to the coronavirus outbreak’.

“This was the case across the entire health service,” a spokesperson said. “Our staff did an incredible job in exceptional circumstances to prepare our hospitals and to treat those who were critically ill with the virus. Our emergency departments have remained fully open throughout to support urgent and emergency patients, and we continued with as many urgent services as possible, including for patients with cancer.

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York Hospital staff did an ‘incredible job in exceptional circumstances’

“We are now working hard to plan and reinstate our normal services, however the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the services we deliver. The safety measures we have to follow, for example social distancing in clinics and on wards, and enhanced cleaning and hygiene procedures, mean we can see fewer patients and carry out fewer operations in a single day. This, coupled with the backlog created by pausing many of our services, means that we will see long waits for some of our services. We are risk-assessing every patient on our waiting lists to ensure we prioritise patients on the basis of their clinical needs.”

The Press also contacted the Department of Health for a statement. A Government spokesperson said:

“This is a new virus and at every stage, we have been guided by the advice of experts from SAGE and our response ensured the NHS was not overwhelmed even at the virus’ peak, so that everyone was always able to get the best possible care.

“We have made significant strides like that NHS test and trace system that is processing a million tests a week and has contacted 350,000 people who may have been unwittingly spreading the virus. 31 billion items of PPE have been ordered, and £3 billion in winter funding has been provided to the NHS on top of a record cash boost of £33.9 billion extra by 2023/24.”

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