Government response led to 20,000 excess deaths in four months

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Lockdown came too late and led to the loss of the lives of 20,000 UK residents, Professor Sir David King told the People’s Covid Inquiry last night. Speaking at the second session of the People’s Covid Inquiry which asked: How did the Government respond, chair of Independent SAGE Professor King said that if the country had gone into lockdown on 3 March 2020, rather than 20 days later, many lives would have been saved. It can be watched on YouTube. 

Mass events such as football matches were partly responsible for spreading COVID-19 among the population. He argued that while people consider these events to be ‘outside’ people will still have mingled in pubs and caught the virus there.

“Hospitals would never have become overwhelmed if we had gone into lockdown earlier. I would have said that at least 20,000 out of the 35,000 lives lost in the first wave could have been saved if we had gone into lockdown earlier,” he told the panel.

The panel for the Inquiry includes Michael Mansfield QC as the chair, Lorna Hackett counsel to the Inquiry as well as Professor Neena Modi, Dr Tolullah Oni and Keep Our NHS Public’s Dr Jacky Davis. They heard evidence from Professor King, as well as other witnesses including Lobby Akinnola from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, Dr Helen Salisbury a GP trainer and BMJ columnist, and Jan Shortt from the National Pensioners Convention.

Exploring the impact of race

Inappropriate guidance given to families by 111 at the start of the pandemic was also examined as a potential cause of excess deaths. Members of the panel asked Lobby Akinnola from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, about his family’s experience of 111 advice.

Akinnola told the panel his father had lost his life to COVID-19 when NHS 111 wrongly diagnosed a lung infection, prescribed him antibiotics and advised him to stay at home and not come into hospital. His father died at home after suffering for two weeks with the virus. Akinnola said he believed his key worker father had acquired the virus as he did not have adequate PPE to carry out his frontline work.

Later on the family, who are black, had sought advice via 111 for another family member who wanted a COVID-19 test and had been asked whether or not they had “blue lips” - a sign of hypoxia that can be more readily be considered when diagnosing white patients, but is not suitable for diagnosing people of colour.

He said: “There are many inequalities that people are already aware of, but now these inequalities are costing the lives of people of colour.”

GPs side-lined

GPs' skillsets had been ignored in the response to the pandemic, said Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP and member of Oxfordshire Keep Our NHS Public, who also presented evidence to the Inquiry.

She criticised the lack of training received by new 111 operators brought in to deal with the pandemic, and the fact that patients were directed to the phone line rather than their own GP, echoing the frustration voiced by families affected by COVID-19.

“The skills that GPs could have brought to bear: most were not used, or were used very late. I have a horrible feeling that if some patients that had seen their GPs instead [of calling 111], we could have saved some lives,” she said.

“There is intense frustration from general practice over this,” Dr Salisbury added.

The panel also heard from Jan Shortt from the National Pensioners' Convention who criticised the inappropriate use of Do Not Resuscitate orders for older people last year in a wide-ranging account of government failures.

Watch the Inquiry

If you missed last night’s session then don’t worry, you can catch up with it on YouTube.

You can also catch up with the first session there too.

Next Inquiry session

Register now for the next session which will ask whether the Government adopted the right strategy, on Wednesday 24 March 2021 at 7pm.

Those wishing to be kept up to date with the Inquiry can sign up to the newsletter or head to the People’s Covid Inquiry website.

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