We, the public, have had enough
We are now well over two years into the Covid pandemic and heading into summer. At this point the Government has long-since dropped all the Covid mandates and told the public that we must “learn to live with Covid”; hospitality venues, bars and theatres are full of people socialising and enjoying themselves; face masks are now a far rarer sight in shops and on public transport; and there are more smiles and spontaneous hugs being seen in public.
Yet when you enter a healthcare facility you could be forgiven for thinking you had entered a time warp and were back in the bad old days of lockdown 2020. Even as you enter you are met with gallons of hand sanitiser, Perspex screens, masked staff and even security guards barring the way and interrogating would-be patients and their chaperones. Aggressive notices on doors, walls, and even the floor instruct you as to where you are or are not allowed to be, and what you must wear, do, or not do. Sick and vulnerable people are being denied the support of a loved one in outpatient appointments and A&E, and visitors to inpatients are severely restricted or, in some cases, barred.
This creates a dehumanising and intimidating environment which provokes an instinctive and unpleasant fear and stress response in many who experience it. This is not conducive to the delivery of the high-quality care that we expect from the NHS, instead often resulting in worse health outcomes.
The failure to let go of these measures and allow a return to normal practice is perpetuating unnecessary and irrational fear which will prevent society from moving forward, as well as contributing to a wider public health crisis of: record waiting lists; missed and late diagnoses causing unnecessary suffering and death; primary care at breaking point; and a predicted ambulance service collapse.
Recently there have been calls from medical experts, politicians (including Sajid Javid) and campaigners to drop the remaining Covid restrictions imposed on NHS staff, visitors and patients. Enough is enough – it is time for the NHS to come into line with the rest of society and to end the draconian restrictions that are causing fear and harm to patients, staff and visitors, and return to normal practice. There must also be a full return to face-to-face consultations in hospitals and primary care. If not now, then when?
It is imperative that NHS Trusts must allow normal visiting without restrictions, in line with the Government guidelines issued to the NHS in March 2022. These disproportionate, unethical and inhuman policies have led to countless patients being cruelly deprived of company and support from their family and friends during times of vulnerability and suffering. The legal right to be accompanied to medical appointments and to receive healthy visitors in hospital must be upheld at all times, ending the post code lottery that patients find themselves in
The legal requirements for face masks have now been lifted throughout the UK. The UKHSA have removed their infection prevention and control measures and NHS England have issued guidance on when masks need not be worn anymore. However, this guidance gives huge discretion to local providers to continue to mandate mask wearing. NHS Wales in the meantime is continuing to mandate mask wearing in all health and social care settings and the Scottish Government continues to ask that medical records note when people decline to wear one. There are increasing calls from the public and professionals to unmask the NHS and drop all the dehumanising and fear-inducing face mask requirements for NHS staff, visitors and patients. The decision to wear a face mask should be entirely an individual’s choice.
The lack of evidence of benefit, and the wealth of evidence of harms resulting from the use of face masks is well researched and documented. The NHS must uphold the principle of evidence-based medicine in their policies and practices as well as the core principles of the NHS Constitution, medical ethics and professional codes of practice, including the right to informed consent. Denying staff, patients and visitors the right to decline a medical intervention (a face mask) without coercion, penalty or restriction is in breach of these principles and codes.
Covid testing of asymptomatic staff, patients and visitors is scientifically unjustifiable and is causing huge staff shortage issues, with asymptomatic (healthy) staff taking time off and adding to the much- reported staff shortages. To impose testing on a healthy person as a condition of visiting violates the principles of informed consent and medical ethics. This wasteful, polluting, harmful and pointless practice must stop now.
We have spent 2 years “saving the NHS”, at great cost to wider public health, the doctor-patient relationship, and the practice of ethical medicine which requires us to “First do no Harm”. It is time for the NHS to save us and return to the principles of its Constitution which states:
“The NHS belongs to the people. It is there to improve our health and wellbeing, supporting us to keep mentally and physically well, to get better when we are ill and, when we cannot fully recover, to stay as well as we can to the end of our lives…. It touches our lives at times of basic human need, when care and compassion are what matter most”