Coronavirus: Doctors call for lower speed limits and higher alcohol prices to reduce strain on NHS

Open letter suggests ways to reduce demand for emergency services

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 25 March 2020 15:52 GMT
Prof Neil Ferguson of Imperial College predicts peak coronavirus in 2-3 weeks' time

A group of doctors has urged the UK to look at lowering speed limits and increasing alcohol prices to take some pressure of the NHS as it battles the coronavirus outbreak.

An open letter — signed by around 100 medics and public health professionals — has pushed for the government to consider emergency measures to reduce the strain on the health service during the pandemic.

Tackling air pollution and providing remote support for smokers to quit while in self-isolation have been suggested by the group.

The medical professionals also asked the government to look at lowering speed limits as a way to curb the number of serious traffic accidents, and using a minimum unit price for alcohol to tackle problem drinking.

Both measures could reduce the strain on NHS emergency departments, the open letter — published on campaign site Lower the Baseline — said.

The group has stressed the need to reduce baseline demand for NHS acute services, on top of limiting the spread of the virus and scaling up critical care capacity.

“There are a set of public health interventions which we know can — quickly enough to be useful in the current epidemic — address some of the biggest drivers of hospital, and especially critical care, admissions,” the letter said.

“These include trauma resulting from vehicle accidents, smoking-related disease and preventing falls amongst the elderly.”

The doctors and public health professionals urged the government to examine their suggestions.

Dr Rob Hughes, a clinical research fellow at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “We all must do everything we can to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 epidemic while also rapidly scaling up hospital capacity.

“At the same time, we need to not miss opportunities to reduce the demands on NHS emergency services through implementing policies which we know work to keep people safe and out of overstretched hospitals.”

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has announced an emergency recruitment drive for volunteers to help the NHS deal with the stress placed on it by the coronavirus outbreak.

Around 170,000 people had signed up by Wednesday morning, hours after the appeal was launched.

Mr Hancock has said more than 11,700 recently retired NHS staff said they would come back to work during the outbreak, while around 23,000 final-year medics and student nurses are to “move to the frontline” next week.

The UK has gone into a nationwide lockdown as it battles the pandemic’s spread, with people ordered to stay at home unless for food, health reasons, or work where homeworking is not possible.

More than 8,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK as of Wednesday, according to official figures.

Meanwhile, the death toll stood at 422.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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