NHS bosses could have prevented ‘chaos and panic’ in a system left ‘wholly unprepared for this pandemic’, the editor of a prestigious British medical journal has claimed in a damning assessment of the UK’s coronavirus response.

Dr Richard Horton branded the NHS’ approach ‘a national scandal’ – suggesting patients and health workers would ‘die unnecessarily’ as a result. Labelling the scale of staff anger and frustration ‘unprecedented’, he told of how one health worker had contacted him about the situation in London saying: ‘The public and media are not aware that today we no longer live in a city with a properly functioning western health-care system.’

He also said numerous warnings were ignored by the NHS, in a scathing article for The Lancet.

Dr Horton cited an example from his journal on January 20, pointing to a global epidemic: ‘preparedness plans should be readied for deployment at short notice, including securing supply chains of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, hospital supplies and the necessary human resources to deal with the consequences of a global outbreak of this magnitude.’

Dr Horton said the Government’s Contain-Delay-Mitigate-Research plan had ‘failed’ and that not following World Health Organisation advice was a mistake. 

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He wrote: ‘It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. They didn’t contact trace.

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‘These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque.’

He added that ‘The result has been chaos and panic across the NHS’.

Dr Horton’s assessment is that ‘the gravity of that scandal has yet to be understood’, as he alleged that doctors ‘have been forced to go to hardware stores to buy their own face masks’ and that patients with suspected Covid-19 are mixing with non-Covid-19 patients.

His warning came as the UK saw its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths since the Covid-19 outbreak began, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said they have tested positive for the virus and frontline testing of NHS workers was set to begin.

A total of 759 people have now died in UK hospitals after being diagnosed with coronavirus, while around 14,500 have tested positive and hundreds of thousands more people are thought to be infected.

Dr Horton also expressed concerns over the Government’s new ‘Suppress-Shield-Treat-Palliate’ plan.

He said: ‘But this plan, agreed far too late in the course of the outbreak, has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients that will soon come.’

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Meanwhile, more than 18,000 doctors, nurses and other former NHS staff have volunteered to return to work to fight the virus.

The en masse effort came after NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens was forced to defend his track record heading the service, with the country’s proportion of intensive care units before the crisis among the lowest in Europe. 

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