Lockdown is a deadly scythe: Cruel irony of severe coronavirus restriction is it costs more lives than it saves, writes Dr RENEE HOENDERKAMP
As winter approaches, the catastrophic impact of the coronavirus national lockdown is becoming ever more tragically clear. In a bitter irony, an approach that was supposedly designed to save lives appears to have achieved the exact opposite.
Even today, Health Secretary Matt Hancock talks of the continuing need for tight restrictions, warning that their removal would let the virus ‘rip’ through our society.
But the truth is that the Government’s own heavy-handed policy has acted like a lethal scythe, particularly against the elderly, the vulnerable and people in poor health.
According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, the number of deaths in private homes during the past nine months is more than 25,000 above the average for the same period over the previous five years.
It is a harrowing statistic which indicates that in 2020 so far there have been an extra 100 deaths every single day. And most of these additional deaths were not caused by Covid-19 – which accounts for less than a tenth of the total – but by common killers such as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
As winter approaches, the catastrophic impact of the coronavirus national lockdown is becoming ever more tragically clear. Pictured: An advertisement board in Manchester warns of a second lockdown
The disturbing ONS analysis is backed up by a wealth of other recent studies – highlighted by today’s exhaustive investigation by the Mail – that paint a picture of a healthcare system in deepening crisis because of the unbalanced focus on Covid.
Hospital admissions have plummeted, while screenings, consultations and operations have all been delayed or abandoned.
One survey was typical in finding that urgent referrals for early cancer diagnosis were down between 70 and 89 per cent. Equally chilling was the finding that the number of people who died while waiting for an organ transplant has almost doubled.
As a GP, I feared exactly this outcome when the national lockdown was first imposed in March. It was obvious that a disaster on this scale would unfold when the NHS – already over-stretched and constantly operating at peak capacity – would no longer offer a normal service.
According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, the number of deaths in private homes during the past nine months is more than 25,000 above the average for the same period over the previous five years. Pictured: Boris Johnson in Downing St today
Effectively, thanks to the Government’s edict, the system was all but closed to cases that did not involve Covid-19. In practice, the National Health Service had been temporarily replaced by a National Covid Service.
As I found in my own surgery, it was almost impossible to access the most basic facilities. We could not even get essential blood tests, for instance, except in the most urgent, exceptional cases. Simple requirements became unattainable.
Mr Hancock is keen to promote telephone consultations by GPs and they can work well for many patients. These days I see only around 10 per cent of my patients face-to-face, with the rest of my consultations being via Accurx – the GP’s equivalent of video-conferencing services such as Zoom – or over the phone.
But neither of these methods are of any use to someone who cannot hear because their ears need to be syringed, yet such a procedure can no longer be conducted as a result of Covid.
Hospital admissions have plummeted, while screenings, consultations and operations have all been delayed or abandoned
Every day in my work I see the consequences of this worrying trend.
Only this week I had a telephone consultation with a child with a severe, potentially dangerous allergy, who had been unable to get a face-to-face appointment at an allergy clinic. Instead, the parents were directed to YouTube to teach themselves how to use an epipen to give an adrenalin shot in an emergency.
When the coronavirus outbreak began and the Government talked of lockdown, I felt that tens of thousands of people could ultimately die, not from the disease itself, but the misguided response to it. That is exactly what seems to be happening.
Charities are already predicting there will be 35,000 more cancer deaths than usual because of problems with diagnosis and treatment.
Skin cancer diagnoses in April, for instance, were little more than half those seen in the previous year. Again, I have seen the grim consequences for myself. Recently I had to attend the funeral of a patient who had become a friend. He had been on chemotherapy, but his treatment was suspended in the spring because of Covid. When it started again in May, it was too late.
The fallout from this healthcare nightmare can be observed everywhere. Government scaremongering has been all too effective, with the result that I see patients who are terrified of going to hospital.
Even today, Health Secretary Matt Hancock talks of the continuing need for tight restrictions, warning that their removal would let the virus ‘rip’ through our society
Similarly the toll on mental health is appalling because of the fear, loneliness, isolation and poverty caused by lockdown. NHS staff are suffering too. I have known colleagues to be traumatised because one of their patients has to go through the final stage of life alone, only allowed to connect with their family through an iPad. That is not cautious. It is inhumane.
Every day in my work I see the consequences of this worrying trend, writes north London GP Dr Renee Hoenderkamp
We could be living with the ramifications of this policy for years in terms of backlogs, waiting lists and worsening conditions – for ill health always breeds ill health.
I have patients who literally cannot walk because they need a knee replacement, yet they have been told that may have to wait 18 months for such an operation.
The picture of decay and delay is not a universal one. I have GP colleagues in other areas who have been able to access a more comprehensive service from the NHS, albeit never the full one.
But that postcode lottery just compounds the injustice. The whole point of having a national service is that it is meant to offer a universal standard of healthcare.
It is certainly not failing in that goal because of the staff. I have worked harder than normal since the onset of Covid, as have my colleagues. But we have all been battling against a flawed approach.
Instead of endless crackdowns, which cannot eradicate the disease, the Government should adopt a twin-track policy of, on one hand, shielding the elderly and vulnerable, and, on the other, allowing the healthy to return to normal.
This would be backed up by a comprehensive, efficient testing regime, something the Government has so far miserably failed to deliver.
In that way, our society can start to rebuild the economy and return the NHS to its true mission of providing proper healthcare for all.
Dr Hoenderkamp is an NHS GP based in north London
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