Virus Fright & Lockdown Have Already Killed 10,000 Britons, 2000 More Dying Each Week
This is shaping out to be a very costly humanitarian intervention indeed
Reorienting the NHS to focus on the Covid-19 emergency was essential but indirect deaths are mounting fast and now threaten to eclipse the carnage wreaked by the virus itself. [Or are already doing so when the “creative” way in which Covid-19 deaths are tallied is considered.]
A new analysis by Edge Health, a leading provider of data to NHS trusts, warns that a second and then a third wave of “non-corona” deaths are about to hit Britain. [Call them lockdown & panic deaths.] Unless radical solutions can be found to resume normal service and slash waiting lists, the NHS may be forced to institute a formal regime of rationing.
The “second wave” is already breaking. It is made up of non-coronavirus patients not able or willing to access healthcare because of the crisis. [Because of the insane, hysterical and panicked reaction to what would have otherwise been comparable to a flu season.]
Based on ONS and NHS data, Edge Health estimates these deaths now total approximately 10,000 and are running at around 2,000 a week.
They include a wide range of typical emergency admissions, including stroke and heart attack patients, as well as those with long term chronic conditions such as diabetes who are not able to access the primary or secondary care services they need. Many are sadly dying in their homes. Others are just getting to hospital too late.
“If projected forwards, these numbers get so large it is hard to relate to them on a personal level”, said George Batchelor, a co-founder of Edge Health. “A guesstimate statistic that makes it more real for me is that in an average lifetime we each encounter around 20,000 people”.
This second wave of deaths is likely to roll on for as long as the NHS needs to be on a battlefooting with Covid-19 [“Battlefooting with Covid-19 while 40% of its beds are empty.] despite appeals by doctors for the sick to continue to access emergency services. Should the bottleneck stretch into the winter months, the monthly count of these indirect deaths can be expected to accelerate further.
There will then be a “third wave” of deaths for Britain to contend with. This is made up, not of emergency cases, but of people who are developing conditions such as cancer and heart disease which are going undiagnosed because of the Covid crisis.
These patients would normally have face-to-face access to a GP and then rapid referral to secondary care for diagnosis and treatment where needed. But this vital, life-saving process has all but ground to a halt.
Currently endoscopies, which are used to diagnose some forms of cancers, have been stopped entirely due to the risk of aerosolising Covid-19, for example. MRI scans have also fallen off a cliff.
“Unlike the current peaks, this third wave may be spread out over a longer period of time. But make no mistake this could be could be a very deadly wave”, says Mr Batchelor.
There are no easy answers for the NHS in tackling these pressures. The treasury mantra of “efficiency” meant the NHS, like much of British industry, was running lean ahead of the crisis with virtually no spare capacity or resilience.
Ministers point out that the NHS has not been “overwhelmed” by Covid-19 in the same way as hospitals in Northern Italy but this has been achieved at the expense of suspending tens of millions of regular check-ups, tests, operations and treatments. [Neither did we expect ministers would admit they contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands unnecessarily, out of their own media-driven political calculation.]
As we reported yesterday, the dash to get patients out of hospital beds in the later half of March and early April was so intense that many frail and vulnerable patients were transferred into nursing homes – some of them carrying the coronavirus.
Mitigating the two waves of indirect deaths will hinge on how the NHS deals with the vast waiting list of patients that is mounting.
Over a month ago, trusts were told to assume that they would “postpone all non-urgent elective operations from 15th April at the latest, for a period of at least three months”.
Already 2.1 million scheduled operations are thought to have been cancelled and this is on top of the 4.5 million people who were on hospital waiting lists before the crisis.
“Usually there are around 700,000 planned and elective operations per month. So over three months, that is a total of 2.1 million operations that will not take place,” said Mr Batchelor. “There might be some attrition to this demand, but it could also be higher as conditions worsen and need increases.
“We expect median waiting times will increase from 8.5 weeks to 13.5 weeks. This will be longer if urgent cases are prioritised.”
To clear this backlog, ministers will need to look to radical solutions, especially as Covid-19 is likely to remain, at best, a constant background drain on NHS resources until a treatment or vaccine can be found, manufactured and distributed.
One option, says Edge Health, would be for the NHS to increase capacity by 125 percent for a year to clear the backlog but this seems improbable, it says, “given the lurking presence of Covid-19 and pressures staff have already endured”.
Another possibility is for the NHS to commission an additional 700 operating theatres of capacity from the private sector at an estimated cost of around £1 billion. However, it is unclear if such capacity really exists as most private surgeons are also NHS doctors. The theaters may exist but the staff may not.
A third option – by far the worst from a patient and a political perspective – would be for the NHS to formally apply a system of healthcare rationing.
“A hybrid that does not involve rationing would be to work with the private sector and potentially utilise technology to make the best use of available space, although access to staffing and PPE will remain challenging for some time,” said Mr Batchelor.
Source: The Telegraph