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Tory Peer Says UK Has “Failed" To Learn Infectious Disease Lessons From Covid

Lord Bethell said the government had failed to move on from a hospital-based method of care (Alamy)

3 min read

Former public health minster Lord Bethell says he fears we haven’t “learned the lessons about infectious disease” from Covid-19 and health resources “are in worse shape” now than before the pandemic hit.

Speaking to PoliticsHome's podcast The Rundown, he admitted his hope that the past few years would be “a pivot for complete change in mindset in this country towards health” had not come to pass, and that he was now starkly aware of “how unhealthy the UK is as a country”.

“I thought that the penny would drop that we are an extremely unhealthy country and that this focus on building hospitals and piling doctors and nurses into hospitals was not delivering the kind of healthy nation we need to survive, to flourish; economically, spiritually, in all ways," the Conservative peer – who served in Boris Johnson’s government for 18 months – said.

“I thought that we'd learned the lessons around vaccines, diagnostics, changing people's behaviours, getting employers involved in health – I've frustratingly got to admit that that just has not happened at all, and we haven't learned the lessons about infectious disease.”

Bethell was particularly struck by how the pandemic had exacerbated the already limited resource in the health service. “We've run down our diagnostics, our databases, our vaccines, a lot of these basic resources of public health are in worse shape today than they were before the pandemic,” he added. 

He said the government had failed to move on from a hospital-based method of care, where patients only begin to interact with the health service when “you're peeing blood and staggering to A&E to ask for help”, instead of a proactive method of “to trying to catch disease earlier and looking after ourselves”.

The former journalist, who also ran the Ministry of Sound nightclub and a communications form before entering Parliament in 2018, said he had found issues with the health service “extremely frustrating”, but said he felt “thoughtful people have got the point” and he was looking to “galvanise political support for this reset” now he was no longer serving in the department for health and social care.

Bethell said during the pandemic he gained firsthand “understanding of how unhealthy the UK is as a country”, and the impact this has not just on the NHS but the wider economy.

“That's where my heart is, that’s the cause that I’m now really plugged into; how do we make this country healthier, so that we can be more productive, so that we have a way out of this spiralling healthcare and social care accelerated that we're on?” he added.

“How do we improve the happiness of people, because there are just tens of millions of people in the country who are wrestling with physical and mental ill health, and it has a huge effect on their lives.”

  • For the full podcast with Lord Bethell listen to The Rundown here


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