'Chaos and panic' over coronavirus pandemic could have been prevented but numerous warnings were ignored, says medical expert

Patrick Grafton-Green
A UK road sign advising drivers to stay home protect NHS saves lives: PA

"Chaos and panic” over the coronavirus pandemic could have been prevented but the NHS was left “wholly unprepared" despite numerous warnings, the editor of a British medical journal has said.

Numerous warnings were issued to NHS bosses but these were not heeded, Richard Horton wrote in The Lancet.

He cited an example from his journal on January 20, pointing to a global epidemic: “Preparedness plans should be readied for deployment at short notice, including securing supply chains of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, hospital supplies and the necessary human resources to deal with the consequences of a global outbreak of this magnitude.”

Dr Horton said the Government’s Contain-Delay-Mitigate-Research plan had failed.

He said: “It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to ‘test, test, test’ every suspected case. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. They didn’t contact trace.

“These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque.”

He added that “The result has been chaos and panic across the NHS”.

It came as:

  • The UK saw its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths since the Covid-19 outbreak began. A total of 759 people have now died in UK hospitals after being diagnosed with coronavirus, while 14,500 have tested positive and hundreds of thousands more people are thought to be infected.
  • Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said they have tested positive, while Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is in self-isolation after exhibiting symptoms.
  • A London NHS transplant surgeon has died days after contracting the virus.
  • Coronavirus tests for NHS frontline staff will be trialled this weekend ahead of a wider roll-out to help those given the all-clear from the disease return to work.
  • Cases topped more than 575,000 worldwide as a number of US states struggle to contain the virus and deaths surge in Italy and Spain.

Dr Horton also expressed concerns over the Government’s new Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate plan.

“But this plan, agreed far too late in the course of the outbreak, has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients that will soon come,” he said.

Meanwhile, more than 18,000 doctors, nurses and other former NHS staff have volunteered to return to work to fight the virus.

The en masse effort came after NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens was forced to defend his track record heading the service, with the country’s proportion of intensive care units before the crisis among the lowest in Europe.

Mr Johnson, who was struck by a high temperature and persistent cough, will continue leading efforts to slow the virus’s spread behind the closed doors of his flat above No 11.

The 55-year-old faced allegations of failing to follow his own guidance for not spreading the disease by practising social distancing.

Concerns are rife over who at the heart of Government could be stricken next, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak having been with the PM shortly before he tested positive.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill was also with the PM, Mr Hancock and Prof Whitty at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Neither the Chancellor or Sir Mark had displayed symptoms on Friday night and therefore had not been tested and were not in isolation.

Both the PM and Mr Hancock were only showing “mild symptoms” of the disease but would have to spend seven days in isolation.

Mr Johnson noticed symptoms on Thursday afternoon before receiving the test results at midnight.

At the latest of the daily press conferences, Cabinet minister Michael Gove declined to be drawn on whether MPs had been too slow in practising social distancing.

He instead said the diagnosis of Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock showed the “virus does not discriminate”, warning: “We are all at risk.”

He also announced that he had given the go-ahead to two new temporary hospitals being built in Birmingham and Manchester to join the facility under development in London.