MPs have launched an inquiry to scrutinise the Government response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as medical leaders have expressed concern over the rising numbers of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital.
The Health and Social Care Committee will jointly conduct evidence sessions with the Science and Technology Committee to examine the effectiveness of the action taken by the Government and the advice it has received from experts.
Members will hear from witnesses about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the social care sector as well as the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities.
Both committees will also look at the effectiveness of testing and contact tracing as well as the Government’s communications and public health messaging.
Greg Clark, who is the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “We are very focused on being able to find and learn lessons during the course of the pandemic that can be applied to decisions that might be coming up further down the road.
“The Prime Minister has committed to a public inquiry but, clearly, that has some way to go before it even starts, let alone concludes, and whatever lessons and conclusions are learnt from that, it is likely to be observed to be too late for the weeks and months ahead.
“So we want to be able to, in a constructive way, feed back what we learn from witnesses in this country and around the world.”
The weekly evidence session is set to begin on October 13, with recommendations expected to be published around springtime next year.
Jeremy Hunt, who is chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee, said: “We are going to start next week with a focus on the social care sector.
“That’s incredibly important because we know we had a number of issues in care homes last time round.”
He added: “In most of our sessions, we will be talking to frontline workers and members of the public who have been directly affected by coronavirus in one way or another.”
Other key areas which will face scrutiny are the deployment of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdown and social distancing rules to manage the pandemic, as well as the development of treatments and vaccines.
In addition, the committees will also look at modelling and the use of statistics, as well as the UK’s prior preparedness for a pandemic.
Intensive care beds
Medical leaders have expressed concern over the rising numbers of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said the “indications are not looking good” as she urged people to stick to local lockdown measures.
She said the nation was at a “tipping point” and warned virus transmission could “get out of control”.
The former chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs said that as well as rising numbers of patients needing hospital admission, there is also an increase in those in need of intensive care.
“We will be getting more data later today but all of the indications are not looking good,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“In the last month alone we have gone from a few hundred a people a day in hospital with coronavirus, to thousands.
“Right now we have got over 3,100 people in hospital with coronavirus around the UK.
“Actually 500 of those are in ITU beds. That’s really worrying.
“A month ago we only had 60 people in the whole of the UK in ITU beds. So we are seeing a very worrying trend at the moment.”
She added: “As the cases go up, a few weeks later hospital admissions do go up, a few weeks after that unfortunately intensive care [use] goes up and deaths go up.”
Professor Stokes-Lampard added: “This virus does not know boundaries and we need to learn its rules and work with it, rather than trying to expect it to conform to the way that we want to live.”
When asked if the NHS can cope, she said: “Right now the NHS can cope.
“There are a few hospitals really struggling but the NHS has learned a lot and is doing remarkably, at the same time as trying to restore services and clear as much of the backlog as we can from all those hundreds and thousands and possibly millions of people waiting for treatment.
“But if we are having to dedicate a much greater proportion of our resource to Covid care that means much less resource available for the other things we want to do.”
She said the NHS would always prioritise people in need of urgent care and encouraged people not to “sit on” worrying symptoms such as a strange lump or bleeding or serious mental health problems, adding: “We are open for business and always have been.”
Prof Stokes-Lampard added: “As a society, as a population, we all have a responsibility to do our best to reduce transmission because if this gets out of control, as we fear it is – and we are at that tipping point right now.
“This isn’t a joke, this isn’t scaremongering.”
On local lockdown rules, she added: “I think the variation in rules – what lockdown means in one place to another – is really difficult. It’s confusing.
“If we get simple messages – you’re in category A, B or C or red, amber or green – that will help because I think consistency is so important.”
She said that people should have “safe” social contact.
“We can do safe social contact and that’s what I’m desperately trying to encourage. Contact and socialise at a safe distance,” she said.
“If it has got to the point where local lockdowns are essential, please stick with them.
“I’m sorry, I don’t like it any more than anybody else, but this is for the good of us all. Please let’s protect our vulnerable this winter.”