LONDON – The UK’s delaying lockdown and non-adherence to social welfare priority has caused thousands of preventable deaths, according to a parliamentary report on past experience from the coronavirus pandemic.
The joint investigation released Tuesday through the House of Commons science and health committees marks the legislature’s first attempt to find out why Britain, originally lauded for its planning to prepare for pandemics, has seen a surge in cases and deaths in many comparable countries. To date, the UK has more than 150,000 coronavirus-related deaths, placing the country in the top 10 total deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization data.
The joint report found that some initiatives were examples of global best practices, but others were serious flaws.
The report praised the “remarkable” achievement of the National Health Service in expanding ventilation and critical care capacities and underscored the success of the Vaccines Task Force in rapidly delivering life-saving vaccines that were rapidly introduced. The country’s clinical studies testing for COVID-19 treatments are also “world leaders,” it said.
However, the delay in key measures to impose a stay-at-home order “reflected a fatalism regarding the spread of COVID that should have been seriously contested at the time,” the committees said.
Believing that herd immunity through infection was the inevitable outcome, the report says the UK made a “grave early mistake in adopting this fatalistic approach” and is not considering a rigorous targeted public health approach stop the spread of the virus, as believed, by many East and Southeast Asian countries.
“The UK’s response has tied some big achievements with some big mistakes,” Health Committee Chairman Jeremy Hunt and Science Committee Chairman Greg Clark – both members of the ruling Conservative Party – said in a statement. “It is important to learn from both to ensure we do as well as we can for the remainder of the pandemic and in the future.”
The 150-page report is based on evidence from more than 50 people, including former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, former No. 10 Advisor Dominic Cummings, Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
There have been areas in which Britain has failed to capitalize despite advances in technology. For example, the country was one of the first in the world to develop a test for the coronavirus, but failed to translate it into an effective testing and tracking system.
In fact, “the slow, unsafe and often chaotic performance of the testing, tracking and isolation system has seriously hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic,” the report said.
It found that initiating a centralized test and trace model as opposed to using local public health experts was a huge mistake.
“Public health directors and their teams working on councils know their areas best,” said David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Welfare Committee, who also noted that such officials “may” have been appointed to support the national authorities test and trace system.
When the national government suspended routine, symptomatic COVID tests from members of the public at the beginning of the pandemic, it cut off its ability to analyze the epidemiology of the virus and its wealth of data experts had no data to question, leaving the ship rudderless.
The report also pointed to numerous flaws in social care, from an early lack of scientific advice, to failure to prioritize PPE for staff, to the quick discharge of patients from hospitals back to homes without proper testing.
Taken together, this resulted in “many thousands of deaths that could have been avoided,” according to lawmakers.
They added that social and economic inequalities in health were exacerbated by the pandemic and noted “unacceptably high death rates among people from black, Asian and ethnic minorities”. The same was true for people with learning difficulties.
Reflections on people with learning disabilities and autistic people “were an ‘afterthought,'” said Michael Absoud, honorary reader for the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at King’s College London. “The disproportionately high death rate for people with autism and learning disabilities reflects historical and persistent large gaps in access to health care.”
Penny Ward, an independent pharmaceutical physician and visiting professor at King’s College London, argued that the “report was a self-congratulations on the” success “of the vaccine and the foresight of the Vaccines Task Force.
“However, We have failed to ensure adequate uptake of vaccination among younger adults and teenagers and some higher-risk communities, “she said,” especially those with African heritage – which is at least one possible reason for the continued spread of infections that are becoming more than the current average of 700 hospital admissions and 100 deaths in the UK. “
She also pointed out that the UK has not introduced antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 and has limited access to monoclonal antibody therapies which, if widely available, could save many more lives.
The report made 38 recommendations to the UK government, which coordinates international resilience planning, including reform of the World Health Organization; to enable immediate data flow between relevant bodies; give the armed forces a central role.
Separately, the government has also committed to launching a full public inquiry into the errors in handling the pandemic; the evidence gathered by the committees will be made available to this investigation.