Leading Intensive Care Doctor Calls For Drastically Hardened Lockdown As Hospitals Struggle To Cope With Covid Patients
One of the UK's leading intensive care doctors is calling for the government to introduce tougher lockdown restrictions immediately as stretched NHS staff face a surge in Covid-19 patients.
Professor of intensive care medicine at University College London, Hugh Montgomery, said politicians must "slam on the brakes" for a two week period and lock down hard from today as "monumental" numbers of Covid-19 patients are arriving at hospital for treatment.
This should include fines and jail time for people who refuse to wear masks despite being warned, and encouraging far more people to work from home. He also called fot a return to very strict one way systems in supermarkets, and reinforcing 2m social distancing when people do have to leave their homes.
"I wouldn't be waiting to try to work out what's happening to rates. I'd be going in really, really hard right now. Say 'right, whatever the most draconian system is we have for a fortnight' and then see what that does to the numbers and see what we need to do. But I wouldn't be waiting," he said.
Professor Montgomery believes far bolder government warnings are needed right away to jolt the public into taking Covid-19 seriously and understanding the significant pressure on the NHS and its staff.
The 58-year-old, who has worked in the intensive care field for thirty years, said: "They need to say to say, we got it wrong, we should have enforced the rules and now we're going to.
"So from now on 'if you're not wearing a mask, you're going to get fined straight away, there will be no second chances, and if you do it a second time, you're going to go to jail.'
"The roads are absolutely full. The pavements are full of people. I don't know where they're going or what they're doing but it's not like lockdown one at all.
"I fail to understand why we have not enforced the restrictions we put in place."
Masks are cheap, simple and easy, and he said for flu viruses they stop viral spread by 75 percent.
Professor Montgomery said after treating patients with Covid-19 on New Year's Eve, he felt he had to speak out about what he was seeing, and warned the public that they would have 'blood on their hands' if they didn't wear masks when asked and that people must stay at home.
This was several days before the government announced its third lockdown.
"The political response has been absolutely sinful. I came out days before the government to tell people to stay at home," he said.
This week he expects numbers of admissions to rise once again as hospitals begin to see patients who may have socialised and mixed households over the New Year period and caught the virus and who have now taken a turn for the worse. It is possible in the coming days the daily death rate will rise higher than 1,325 recorded last week, he suggests.
Patients needing intensive care are "very sick" and at the "extreme end" and in some cases he is treating patients in their 30s with no underlying health conditions.
Treatment is now happening on the wards, rather than in specific intensive care, because of the volume of patients.
"We can't look after all of these patients in intensive care, so a lot of what used to happen in intensive care happens on a ward, and that's been done by nurses who wouldn't normally do it, by junior doctors who wouldn't normally do it. Putting them under enormous pressure," he said, adding that staff absences because of Covid make things "even more difficult".
On one shift at an intensive care unit, he said he and a nurse, went in at 7.30am and the pair of them did not leave until 5pm - neither of them having left, having eaten, drunk or gone to the toilet.
"The nursing staff are doing this everyday. And they're exhausted," he said.
Patients are also having to be transferred around the capital to be treated at other hospitals which might have space. Moving patients for non-clinical reasons in normal times usually lands a hospital with a fine because it's seen as a "quality indicator", Professor Montgomery explained.
Covid denial is also still a real issue, with patients and their families saying they didn't believe in the illness until they or their relative became ill.
He said: "There hasn't been anywhere near enough adequate messaging to counter the denialists. It's a frequent occurance now for relatives to say I didn't believe in Covid."
An NHS spokesperson said: “Staff are working round the clock opening extra capacity and, as the professional colleges have already said and agreed to, doctors, nurses and other health professionals will rightly respond flexibly.
“It is obvious that the NHS is under severe pressure currently which is why it is so important that the public play their part by observing social distancing and the hands, face, space advice.”
A government spokesperson said: “It is absolutely vital that people stay at home to reduce new infections, ease the pressure on the NHS and save lives.
“The decision to introduce a national lockdown was due to a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions, and case rates across the country, attributed to the new variant of Covid19.
“We keep all measures under constant review, and as we’ve shown before, we will not hesitate to take further action if needed.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe