NHS staff have urged Boris Johnson to proceed cautiously with easing coronavirus restrictions ahead of the proposed 21 June unlocking, warning the health service and frontline workers in particular have been “broken” by the pandemic and are “close to burnout”.
One doctor, Megan Smith, said her colleagues feared the impact of reopening in the coming weeks. “Everyone in the NHS at the moment is kind of terrified,” she said.
Nick Scriven, a doctor and former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said there was “very significant concern” around the Delta – or Indian – variant.
Emily Ball, a GP in northwest England, said “general practice is a bit of a mess” while the abuse doctors were receiving was on the rise.
GPs were “pretty broken and close to burnout”, she said, adding: “The stuff we are doing is greater than ever, and unfortunately so is the amount of abuse we are taking.”
The prime minister has come under pressure from those on the right of his party to move ahead with “freedom day“ on 21 June, despite the threat of new variants, while others have urged him to tread a more cautious line.
Frontline workers speaking to the PA news agency were among those expressing concern about a relaxation in Covid restrictions, with some describing the health service as still “on its knees” and at higher capacity than usual.
Dr Smith, who is also legal and policy officer for campaign group EveryDoctor, said the NHS was under pressure dealing with issues from the first waves of the pandemic, and could not cope with even a small spike in Covid patients.
She said: “Now patients have presented and a lot of them are presenting in a worse state.
“We've heard of hospitals effectively closing their waiting lists, which is unheard of.”
“Without question, there should be a pause,” she added. “There should be a look at whether there needs to be backtracking and have more restrictions in place. Obviously that is a deeply unpopular thing to say.”
Dr Scriven said: “Any slight rise in numbers will put the latter into jeopardy, as hospitals will again lose any flexibility in how they manage their bed bases around infection control policies.”
Dr Ball added: “We know there's still a lot of kind of unclear messaging going on, and I think unfortunately is people’s behaviour has been relaxing.
“And then the beaches are packed, nobody’s wearing a mask, there's no social distancing, and you just want to weep.
“The NHS is still in crisis and we cannot cope as it is. Unlocking poses a real threat to it just collapsing, and my biggest concern is patient safety.”
Half of adults in the UK are now estimated to have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, with three-quarters having been given a single jab.
However, concerns about the unlocking have been fuelled by a rise in cases in the UK as well as estimates that the all-important R rate of reproduction of the disease has now risen back above the crucial level of 1, meaning the virus is spreading exponentially.
Matt Hancock said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the government would assess the data for another week before making any commitment to ease restrictions further.
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