One of the most senior figures in the National Health Service in England has accused the government of “washing its hands of responsibility “and “abandoning” health service staff as part of its living with COVID-19 policy, and called for the reintroduction of measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, as case numbers continue to put huge strains on medical resources and staff.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation management group, has warned that the upcoming Easter holidays could be “as bad as any winter” for NHS staff in terms of dealing with high numbers of cases, and says the government does not have a living with COVID-19 plan, as it claims, but rather a “living without restrictions ideology, which is different”.
Restriction measures to fight the spread of the virus were lifted at the end of February, with free testing withdrawn at the start of April, but the emergence of the highly infectious BA.2 form of the omicron variant has led to major problems.
Taylor said measures such as advice on the wearing of masks on public transport should be reintroduced, to stop the spread and ease the pressure on the NHS.
“We’re behaving as if this pandemic is over, but it is not over in relation to the challenges facing the health service,” he said.
“We need to renew the call for people to have vaccinations and booster vaccinations-there are still a lot of people out there who are not up to date with the vaccinations that they could have,” he said.
“We need to resource the health service. At the moment, for example, the health service is providing free tests for its staff, which it needs to do because staff absences are really high in the NHS because of COVID. But the NHS has to pay for those tests. So, we need to put the resource in.”
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics last week showed that an estimated one in 13 people in England had coronavirus in the week ending April 2, which would be the highest level at any point during the pandemic.
The Daily Mirror reported absence rates of 3 percent among NHS staff, because of COVID, and Taylor said there was a clear disconnect between the government’s message about living with COVID, and what staff were dealing with on the front line.
” (Downing Street) has seemingly abandoned any interest in COVID whatsoever,” he added. “It is now unclear that anyone in the center of government feels the unfolding NHS crisis is their responsibility.”
Replying for the government, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “The success of our vaccination and antivirals programs alongside increased public understanding on managing risk means we can start living with COVID, with public health guidance and free testing focused on groups who are most at risk from the virus.”