The UK’s top health leaders have written to all political parties asking them to work together to ensure the country is ready to contain a second phase of coronavirus as Brexit approaches.
The experts – who include presidents of the Royal College of Physicians, Surgeons, GPs and Nursing, and the chair of the British Medical Association – ask for a review of the first stage of the pandemic to learn lessons including why black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities have borne a “disproportionate burden”.
They also ask for better parliamentary scrutiny and involvement of regional and local leaders and more international collaboration, “especially to mitigate any new difficulties in pandemic management due to Brexit”.
In an open letter published on the British Medical Journal website, the leaders warn that “local flareups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk”. They say “substantial challenges remain” despite many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus “beginning” to be put in place.
The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase, they suggest.
A review into the UK’s handling of Covid-19 so far is “crucial, they write, and needs to happen soon if the public is to have confidence that the virus can be contained”.
The review should “not be about looking back or attributing blame. Rather it should be a rapid and forward-looking assessment of national preparedness, based on an examination of the complex and interrelated policy areas.”
They suggest it should not be handled by select committees in parliament but by a cross-party commission, establishing “a constructive, non-partisan, four nations approach that could rapidly produce practical recommendations for action, based on what we have all learnt, and without itself becoming a distraction for those at the front line or in government”.
Polls show that a majority of the public now support an inquiry, with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, requesting a full public inquiry. “There’s a strong case for an immediate assessment of national preparedness, with the first results available no later than August, and that all its work should be completed by the end of October,” the health leaders argue.
Ministers have already said the temporary Nightingale hospitals set up in case the NHS was overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases will remain on standby over the coming months.
Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday the biggest easing to date of the coronavirus lockdown in England. The prime minister said the 2-metre distancing rule would be replaced with a “1-metre-plus” rule, paving the way for pubs, restaurants, hotels and cinemas to begin reopening from 4 July.