COVID-19: Doctors brand Government ‘wilfully negligent’ for ruling out Plan B restrictions

A senior Liverpool hospital doctor has joined his colleagues in hitting out at the Government’s “inexplicable delay” in taking action as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the region and the UK.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Picture: Christopher Furlong - WPA Pool/Getty Images.Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Picture: Christopher Furlong - WPA Pool/Getty Images.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Picture: Christopher Furlong - WPA Pool/Getty Images.

The chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) has accused ministers of being “wilfully negligent” after the Health Secretary ruled out immediately implementing the Government’s coronavirus Plan B.

It comes amid soaring infections and concern over a new variant, both of which led NHS leaders yesterday to urge the Government to reintroduce stricter COVID-19 rules.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul of the BMA spoke out after Sajid Javid announced the decision at COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday.

A senior Liverpool hospital doctor has also hit out at the Government for it’s “inexplicable delay” in taking action as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the Liverpool City Region.

Dr Peter Hampshire, from Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Trust, tweeted: “It feels a lot like this time last year in ICU (Intensive Care Units). Lots of pressure on hospitals, rising cases of COVID.

“Unlike last year, we now have vaccines as 1st line of defence & a few easy wins, like booster doses, mandatory mask wearing. Last year we had a chance to reduce cases & deaths by acting on the data early enough.

“Looks like we are heading for further inexplicable delay in responding to rising cases in the UK - which are far higher than in the rest of Europe.”

COVID-19 rates in Liverpool

All six areas of the Liverpool City Region have seen a rise in COVID-19 cases with two recording notable surges, the latest data from the Government shows.

According to the figures from Public Health England, Knowsley was the worst hit constituency as coronavirus cases rose by 45.5% in the seven days leading up to 15 October.

The region had 627 cases in total, 196 more than the previous week.

The percentage change week on week in St Helens rose by 31.8%, with 235 more cases than the previous seven days - 974 in total.

Infection rates in Sefton (12.1%), Halton (9.8%), Wirral (8.2%) and Liverpool (3.9%) also rose during the same period.

What Sajid Javid said

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people must get their COVID-19 vaccines and any booster shots, as well as doing things like wearing masks in crowded places.

Mr Javid warned cases could reach 100,000 a day as the country enters a challenging winter period.

But he said the Government would not be implementing its Plan B strategy - for when the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure - “at this point”.

BMA criticises Government

Responding to the Government’s stance, the BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The Westminster Government said it would enact Plan B to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed; as doctors working on the frontline, we can categorically say that time is now.

“By the Health Secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown.

“It is therefore incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS.”

Dr Nagpaul added that he believed the Government had “taken its foot off the brake, giving the impression that the pandemic is behind us and that life has returned to normal”.

He said: “It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster Government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.

“These are measures that are the norm in many other nations.”

Doctors want to see tougher Covid restrictions reintroduced ahead of this winter, such as mandatory face coverings (image: Getty Images)Doctors want to see tougher Covid restrictions reintroduced ahead of this winter, such as mandatory face coverings (image: Getty Images)
Doctors want to see tougher Covid restrictions reintroduced ahead of this winter, such as mandatory face coverings (image: Getty Images)

Dr Nagpaul’s comments were echoed by former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport, who told BBC’s Newsnight programme that the current restrictions against coronavirus are probably “not holding things”.

He told BBC Newsnight: “Am I worried? Yes. It’s very, very delicately poised. We’ve got a lot of cases at the moment.

“Winter is coming, flu is probably coming. It’s not a good place to be. The evidence is that the current measures are probably not holding things.”

Responding to the criticisms, a Government spokesperson said: “We always knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our plan for Autumn and Winter last month.

“The vaccination programme has significantly weakened the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths and will continue to be our first line of defence against COVID-19.

“We encourage those who are eligible for a booster jab to come forward to ensure they have this vital extra protection as we approach winter.”

What is the Government’s Plan B strategy?

The Government’s Plan B strategy was included in its Covid Winter Strategy, which was launched by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September.

Plan A of the strategy has already been implemented and focuses on continuing with the vaccine rollout, moving forward with the booster jab programme, and encouraging those who have not yet received any doses of the Covid vaccine to receive it.

It also encourages people to get a flu jab.

Should this plan lead to a point where the NHS is put under unsustainable pressure, the Government can turn to Plan B.

Under this plan, England could see face coverings become legally mandatory in some settings, the introduction of mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification and a return to working from home.