Why are powerful voices still calling for less indoor mixing?
You would be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu this morning, as Matthew Taylor, CEO of the NHS Confederation once again described his frustration with the government’s “living with Covid” plan. After all, only three days earlier he had appeared on the BBC’s breakfast programme, again lambasting the Government for following a “living without restrictions ideology”.
The Confederation has appeared repeatedly in the media this week calling for “mitigating actions”, reported to include new restrictions on people mixing indoors, and a new push to make people wear face masks. Taylor was also keen to explain that NHS managers should be given leniency when it came to targets due to the impact of Covid. Whether the public will still buy this defence — two years after the start of the pandemic —remains to be seen.
Taylor is no stranger to doing the media rounds. After all, he has worked extensively in politics, serving as Chief Adviser on Political Strategy to Tony Blair. Since his appointment to the Confederation in June 2021, he has called repeatedly for renewed restrictions. As one political commentator remarked last year: “As a former Blair aide, Matthew Taylor knows how to use the NHS brand to push for Covid Plan B”.
But we must ask: why? With multiple vaccines and treatments available and plenty of time for healthcare planning, Covid cannot still be used as a justification for more restrictions.
There was an agreement struck at the start of the pandemic. That in order to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed — and to “flatten the curve” unprecedented limits — restrictions would be placed on everyday activities. But there is a significant difference between a society limiting basic freedoms because of an acute emergency, and a society having its freedoms depending on the capacity of a healthcare service years down the line. In a liberal democracy, is it right that restrictions are normalised, and that sweeping limits can be placed on individuals at the whim of healthcare bosses?
That the NHS is struggling is not disputed, but this was the case prior to Covid. In the Winter of 2017-18, for example, the NHS cancelled tens of thousands of operations and set up makeshift wards due to huge pressures. Then NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens described February 2018 as probably the “most pressurised month NHS has seen in its nearly 70-year history”. Back then, there was no suggestion that people’s freedoms would be sacrificed as a result.
The rallying cry for more restrictions is increasingly being used as a political instrument. As this past week has shown, it has been used to criticise the government and absolve the NHS of any responsibility to better or improve itself. Rather than pushing for more restrictions, the Left would do better to emphasise better management, planning and resourcing of the NHS.
The latest ONS survey, released today, indicates that even in the absence of restrictions, Covid infections have started to fall. But even if they didn’t, the question must be asked: at what point does it become the job of those running the NHS to work around the needs of society, rather than demanding that society is shaped around the needs of the NHS?
Amy Jones is an anonymous medical doctor with a background in philosophy and bioethics. You can find her on Twitter at @skepticalzebra.