The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) has warned the government against relaxing the coronavirus lockdown criteria.
The appeal follows reports the UK government has softened one of its five criteria, which must be met before the current lockdown can be eased – specifically the one about whether the NHS can cope.
The president-elect of the RCS, Professor Neil Mortensen said just because the NHS has not been overwhelmed so far, it ‘does not mean the government can use the health service as its economic punch-bag’.
‘It has been a close-run thing, and to use Boris Johnson’s own words, “we have begun to wrestle it to the floor”, but the virus is certainly not yet defeated,’ said Professor Mortensen.
‘Softening the fifth test to allow relaxation provided the NHS is not “overwhelmed”, is based on a flawed premise.’
The warning has also come as the RCS publish the results of a new survey of its members, which shows that almost a third (32.8%) of surgeons do not believe there is an adequate supply of PPE in their workplace.
A similar number (34.1%) of respondents said there had been shortages of full, long-sleeved, fluid repellent surgical gowns, or fluid repellent coveralls, over the last two weeks.
And 30.5% said there had been shortages of FFP2 or FFP3 respirator masks.
‘The NHS has done a tremendous job of redirecting staff and resources to manage the first wave of coronavirus, but this involved postponing thousands of much-needed operations,’ said Professor Mortensen.
‘Having seen off the immediate threat, we must now get back to helping all those patients waiting for essential operations like heart and brain surgery. The NHS cannot continue to be just a COVID-service, it’s so much more than that.
‘Our survey shows the government’s fourth test for lifting lockdown has not yet been met,’ added Professor Mortensen.
‘Surgeons still lack PPE, and we need to be sure that the welcome recent announcements to extend testing mean all hospital workers can get tested quickly, whether or not they are symptomatic.
‘Having so recently experienced first-hand the support of the NHS, I hope the prime minister will not listen to those urging relaxation of the government’s position, on the flawed premise that the NHS ‘can cope’,’ he added.
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