It was never the plan for the NHS to deal with a second wave of Covid. The official strategy, all through the summer, was for the £12 billion Test and Trace system to come along and zap new cases. Decisions for NHS investment this winter were made on the assumption that hospitals would be fine – because Dido Harding’s new system would work – this is why the Treasury rejected funding for the rollout of NHS ‘Seacole Centres’ for Covid convalescents. But the expensive system failed and the NHS is back in the hot seat. Whether this is a second wave or (as the WHO has argued) smaller ripples after the end of the first wave, the question is how much of a risk it poses. No.10 is trying to persuade Manchester to accept Tier 3 restrictions by claiming that ‘hospital admissions in Greater Manchester are doubling every nine days’ and that the hospitals are at capacity. But what’s the evidence for this – and other claims of NHS overflow?
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has gone back to Plan A, reviving his ‘protect the NHS’ message from March and now wears a facemask with those words on it. The Prime Minister is repeating the slogan. It’s deeply controversial with senior doctors who fear that it discourages the sick from seeking help – which might explain the 28,000 excess at-home deaths over the last few months. The NHS is worried about this and has countered with its own advert, urging people to seek medical help. I looked at this in my latest Daily Telegraph column.
The NHS has learned much from the first wave of Covid. PPE equipment, for example, is now in bountiful supply. Basic medical techniques – better use of blood thinners, oxygen therapy, steroids etc – are having a big impact on survival rates.