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'Neglect' of NHS led to 'harrowing' Covid death toll, doctor's union claims

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"Chronic" neglect and a lack of preparation by the UK Government contributed to the pandemic's "harrowing" death toll, the British Medical Association (BMA) has claimed.

The trade union, which represents all doctors in the UK, has said the NHS cannot return to the "under-staffed" and "under-resourced" levels it says medical staff were working in before the virus took hold.

In his address to the BMA's Annual Representative Meeting (ARM), chair of council Dr Chaand Nagpaul is set to argue that all parts of the NHS had been "starved", with insufficient hospital and community facilities and almost 90,000 staff vacancies before the pandemic struck.

Read more: The 29 things a Covid inquiry absolutely must look at into how the Welsh Government handled the pandemic

Dr Nagpaul has also claimed that the decision to abandon all restrictions on 'Freedom Day' in England was a "gamble" that has contributed to almost 40,000 hospitalisations and more than 4,000 deaths since July 19.

While the BMA called for an inquiry for lessons to be learned before the second coronavirus wave, the call was dismissed by the UK Government, which they claim pushed the NHS to the "brink of collapse".

In his speech, Dr Nagpaul is set to say: "We will not accept a return the old pre-pandemic NHS, which was so patently under-staffed and under-resourced, where nine in 10 doctors are afraid of medical errors daily. We will not accept an NHS running at unsafe bed occupancy and without spare capacity.

"We will not accept an NHS unprepared for a pandemic, without vital PPE to protect the health and lives of health and care workers.

"We will not accept an NHS in crisis every summer, let alone every winter. We will not accept a nation bereft of public health staff, facilities and testing capacity, with ministers then paying billions to private companies who were unable to deliver."

Addressing the recent announcement around additional funding for the NHS and social care, the BMA chair will describe it as an important first step but stressed the need for "honesty" about how far the money will stretch, with "realistic projections" of the timescales for addressing the backlog. You can read more about what the UK Government's new social care and tax plans may mean for Wales here.

Dr Nagpaul will also acknowledge the efforts of all those involved in the vaccine campaign - including the GP-led community vaccination programme - negotiated by the BMA - which has been the most successful in the UK's history.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We have backed the health service at every turn, with an extra £29 billion to support health and care services on top of our historic settlement for the NHS in 2018. This will see the NHS budget rise by £33.9 billion by 2023/24.

"At the same time, we are backing the NHS with a further £36 billion for health and social care and a ring-fenced £8 billion to tackle backlogs and help the NHS deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans and operations for patients across the country."

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