A decade of under-funding in key equipment to tackle coronavirus has left Britain in a “far worse” starting position than most of Europe, the government has been warned.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, said ministers had to explain how they plan to drastically ramp up the number of ventilators.
The machines are an essential part of treating those with severe cases of COVID-19, when a sticky mucus fills patients’ lungs preventing them from breathing.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has called on all manufacturers who can to turn their hand to making more and promised: “We will buy it – no number is too high.”
But parts of the government’s response to tackling a virus that has so far killed 21 people in the UK came under fire from the doctors’ union and the Labour Party.
Dr Chand told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Our starting position unfortunately has been far worse than many other of our European nations.
“We have about a quarter of the critical care beds that Germany has, as an example.
“So it’s really critical, it’s really important that we now see transparently what plans the government has to expand that capacity.”
He blamed “a decade of under-funding” and called on the prime minister to announce major new steps on ending non-urgent care and telling health consultants to work from home.
Doctors are “very worried” because they only have paper masks of “low effectiveness” and not “adequate protections”, Dr Chand added.
He also called for medics to be tested for COVID-19 to stop them having to self-isolate for seven days who recover from a non-threatening cough or cold quicker.
“I can’t emphasise how seriously the problem is if you’ve got doctors off work in a GP’s surgery with three or four doctors if two of them are self-isolating,” he said.
“That could effectively prevent the practice running in a normal fashion.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also called on to hold a news conference to explain the new advice revealed this weekend – including a plan to be introduced within weeks to tell all people over 70 to self-isolate for months.
The demand came from Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, who told Sky News: “I just need to understand better why the government is taking a different approach, based on its science, from other countries.
“I think that’s why it is so important that all the scientific modelling for example is published.”
He added: “If things have changed since the prime minister’s press conference on Thursday then the prime minister should be doing another press conference today and explaining why things have changed.”
It comes after Mr Hancock had to confirm the government wasn’t hoping millions of Britons get coronavirus to give “herd immunity” to the whole country, after the concept was floated by the government’s chief scientific adviser.
And they wonder why people are confused and angry?
— Rachael Swindon (@Rachael_Swindon) March 15, 2020
“Herd immunity is not our goal or policy – it’s a scientific concept,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“Our policy is to protect lives and to beat this virus.”
Mr Hancock added “we are absolutely ready” to ban gatherings of over 500 people and pointed towards a COBRA meeting being held on Monday when asked when the decision will be made.