‘We knew people were dying’: Boris Johnson's coronavirus response criticised by Lancet editor

Ellen Manning
·3-min read
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: A NHS nurse holds a Coronavirus testing kit as she speaks to the media at a drive through Coronavirus testing site in a car park on March 12, 2020 in Wolverhampton, England. The National Health Service facility has been set up in a car park to allow people with NHS referrals to be swabbed for Covid-19. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said it was a "national scandal" that the NHS hasn't got the right Personal Protective Equipment. (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The editor of prestigious medical journal The Lancet has hit out at Boris Johnson’s government over the way it has handled coronavirus, branding it a “national scandal”.

Richard Horton said the government had known since January that COVID-19 was coming to the UK but had “wasted February” by failing to ramp up testing or ensure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff.

Speaking on BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night, Horton said: “Sorry to say this but it’s a national scandal. We shouldn’t be in this position.”

He said: “We knew in the last week of January that this was coming. The message from China was absolutely clear that a new virus with pandemic potential was hitting cities, people were being admitted to hospital, admitted to intensive care units and dying and the mortality was growing.

“We knew that 11 weeks ago and then we wasted February when we could have acted - time when we could have ramped up testing, time when we could have got PPE ready and disseminated. We didn’t do it.”

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Horton’s comments build on concerns that there is not enough, or the right, PPE for doctors and nurses treating patients with coronavirus.

Earlier this week the British Medical Association (BMA) warned that doctors and patients will die without adequate personal protective equipment.

General view as Tower Bridge and the Shard are lit blue in support of the NHS, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Horton's comments came as people across the country applauded NHS workers and landmarks were lit up blue in honour of the NHS (Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville)

Horton hit out at what he branded hypocrisy by the government for encouraging the nation to applaud NHS workers on Thursday night whilst failing to equip them properly.

He said: “I’m hearing that not just PPE is not available, it’s the wrong kind of PPE. What we have isn’t even WHO standard.

“We’re putting our health workers who we’ve just all clapped here in the front line without the armour they need to defend themselves. They’re wearing surgical masks which are not WHO standard, they’re wearing thin plastic aprons which are not standard and they’re wearing rubber gloves which only cover their wrist exposing their arms to danger.

“That is nothing short of a national scandal. How could we allow this to happen? The hypocrisy of clapping NHS workers and yet the government not supporting them to go into that front line is tragic and it was preventable. I’m sorry to say but it was preventable.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said millions of pieces of PPE have been sent out and a hotline has been set up so staff can report where there are shortages.

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