Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

The NHS is not at risk of being overwhelmed—it already is

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 12 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n62

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  1. Daniel Sokol, medical ethicist and barrister
  1. 12 King’s Bench Walk, London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}
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For patients whose condition worsens as they wait in line, the NHS has already been overwhelmed

Cases of covid-19 are surging and doctors warn of the NHS being overwhelmed. On 2 January 2021, there were 57 725 daily cases of covid-19 in the UK, a new record. Hospital admissions have also risen and many hospitals are struggling to meet the high demand. The government is petrified at the prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed. Yet, it already is.

Elective operations have all but stopped in many hospitals and resources reallocated towards the covid-19 effort. What this means is that patients with, say, a brain tumour might have their operation delayed. The patient will continue to suffer from symptoms until the rescheduled operation and, by the time of …

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