Easing coronavirus restrictions too soon will be a “recipe for disaster”, a doctor has warned, amid concerns for an NHS already struggling with a backlog of non-Covid patients.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under pressure to move ahead with “freedom day” on June 21, given the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in recent months.
Several frontline workers have already expressed fears about the impact of reopening in the coming weeks, with some describing the health service as still “on its knees” and at higher capacity than usual.
Dr Megan Smith, told the PA news agency: “Everyone in the NHS at the moment is kind of terrified.”
Dr Smith, who is also legal and policy officer for campaign group EveryDoctor, said the NHS is under pressure dealing with issues from the first waves of the pandemic, and could not cope with even a small spike in Covid patients.
She said: “Now patients have presented and a lot of them are presenting in a worse state.
“We’ve heard of hospitals effectively closing their waiting lists, which is unheard of.”
“Without question, there should be a pause,” she added.
“And in my view, there should be a look at whether there needs to be backtracking and have more restrictions in place.
“Obviously that is a deeply unpopular thing to say.”
Half of adults in the UK are now estimated to have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, with three-quarters have received a single shot. However, Dr Smith said this may not be enough protection against the rising Delta variant.
The view echoed that of the Society for Acute Medicine, which warned that even a small increase in Covid-19 numbers could jeopardise plans to tackle the backlog of routine surgery.
“Any slight rise in numbers will put the latter into jeopardy, as hospitals will again lose any flexibility in how they manage their bed bases around infection control policies,” Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president, said.
He added that there was “very significant concern” around the Delta – or Indian – variant, “especially around the potential for vaccinated staff to be asymptomatic carriers”.