Britain will face an “extended period” of extra deaths after operations are canceled and people avoid the NHS during the pandemic, Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have said.
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England and Chief Scientific Adviser made the comments in a co-authored technical report on the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.
All four UK CMOs, the NHS England National Medical Director and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Chief Executive are also signatories.
The report, released Thursday by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is written for the future CMOs, national medical directors and public health leaders facing emerging pandemics, it said.
In eleven chapters, the authors cover topics such as care homes, contract tracing, testing and lockdowns.
An introduction to the report emphasizes that it is not a “definitive story” of the pandemic to date, or of the policy decisions made. However, it is the first comprehensive overview of events and implications of the past two and a half years to be published by officials.
It comes after the start of the UK’s Covid-19 Inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, which will begin public hearings next year to examine the government’s response to the pandemic.
Report suggests GPs are moving to remote appointments
In Chapter 10, “Improvements in care for COVID-19,” the authors outline changes in healthcare, such as moving primary care physicians to remote appointments and postponing elective surgeries.
There were “limits” to the extent to which telephone and video GP appointments could replace face-to-face appointments, the report said, but added “in many cases the balance of risks and benefits still favored remote support “.
Discussing measures taken to respond to the surge in Covid patients, it said: “Switching to remote consultations, discouraging unnecessary presentations on health facilities and asking that people with specific symptoms avoid healthcare facilities unless necessary is an effective way to reduce potential transfer risks and added burden at a time of great pressure.
“However, this must be weighed against the risk that health-seeking behaviors were modified to the point where there was a significant unmet need, resulting in implications for mortality and morbidity.”
Despite Sir Chris insisting that the public “emergency room was always open for business,” far fewer people presented to the emergency room during the first wave, the report said.
“No doubt some people who would (and could have) come forward have not done so because of a sense of altruism or the perceived risk of being hospitalized,” it added.
Delays in patients reporting for help, a reduction in preventive medications – such as statins – and the cancellation of surgeries and screenings “will have led to later and more severe” non-Covid illness, the authors conclude.
“The combined effect of this is likely to lead to a prolonged period of non-COVID excess mortality and morbidity after the worst period of the pandemic has passed,” it said.
Nearly 900 more cancer deaths than expected since September
Recent data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) shows that since early September there have been nearly 900 more cancer deaths than expected at this time of year.
The report’s authors also praised the “extraordinary speed” with which Covid vaccines were delivered. But they warned: “There is a danger that this will falsely reassure some policymakers that a vaccine can be produced at this rate for the next pandemic.”
The term “lockdowns” will become “most associated” with the pandemic, the authors predict, acknowledging it was the “most intense” measure taken to contain the virus.
Despite the measure being “highly effective” in reducing first-wave transmission of Covid, they claim, it raised a wide range of concerns across society, such as concerns about mental health and domestic violence and protection.
“There will also be further effects [from lockdowns] that have not been measured or fully realized,” they add.
The authors said weighing the risks of school closures was “particularly difficult and controversial” but added that they “have the potential to have lasting effects on children’s education, development and life chances”.
In an example of such effects, they cite an 81 percent increase in mental health referrals for children and young people from April to September 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.