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The parliamentary committee report on covid-19 response

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n2530 (Published 15 October 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2530

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Re: The parliamentary committee report on covid-19 response

Dear Editor

Not only did the parliamentary committee report highlight that the shaky test and trace system impaired the pandemic response, but now the public accounts committee has clearly stated (again) that there is no evidence it had an effect on reducing levels of infection (1). Given this, there is no surprise that it failed to prevent a second lockdown, and at an “eye watering” cost so far of £37bn, around one fifth of the annual NHS budget.

Included are the grotesque payments to 2000 management consultants/contractors. Some of these individuals were paid up to £6k a day, meaning that in one week they earned the average annual salary of a nurse. Consider also that the boost in National Insurance contributions will take £900m from health and care staff (2). In addition, while the chancellor has increased the minimum wage, this now means health care assistants will be earning only 1p an hour above this (3). The report did not examine the state of the NHS immediately before the pandemic (perhaps because this would have brought Jeremy Hunt’s disastrous record into focus) (4), but might usefully have reflected on the effects of low pay and a public sector pay freeze on recruitment and retention, with around 100,000 vacant posts.

Currently, an imagined effective test and trace system underpins the present pandemic strategy – Plan A; rising numbers of Covid cases, deaths and hospital admissions are testimony to its ongoing failure. Total reliance on vaccination (even though this has stalled compared with some other European countries) (5), pretending we have returned to normal, and denying the NHS and care sector are in crisis (6) represents a complete abdication of leadership. The select committees’ report is titled ‘Coronavirus: lessons learned to date’. If this was posed as a question, the answer might be: ‘none so far’.

References
1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/27/nhs-test-and-trace-failed-...
2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/sep/23/national-insurance-hike-...
3. https://nursingnotes.co.uk/news/politics/new-plans-mean-healthcare-assis...
4. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/ournhs/what-did-jeremy-hunt-do-to-the-n...
5. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/07/england-vaccine-ju...
6. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/26/what-price-human-l...

Competing interests: Co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public

27 October 2021
John Puntis
Consultant Paediatrician
Dr
Leeds