Doctor: coronavirus pandemic could kill off NHS bed blockers

Former Scottish government worker claims a coronavirus pandemic ‘would be quite useful’ in killing off NHS bed blockers in the wake of the first UK death

  • Professor June Andrews admitted to MSPs that her comments sounded ‘horrific’
  • But insisted they were an honest assessment of consequences of a pandemic 
  • She blamed politicians for not properly funding hospitals with higher tax rates  

A coronavirus pandemic would be ‘quite useful’ in killing off hospital bed blockers, a senior doctor claimed today in the wake of the first UK death. 

Professor June Andrews, a former Scottish government official, conceded the comments sounded ‘horrific’ but insisted they were an honest assessment of the consequences of a Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to Holyrood’s public audit committee, she blamed politicians for leaving the elderly stuck in hospitals because there were not enough social care services for them to be discharged to. 

Professor June Andrews, a former Scottish government official, conceded the comments sounded ‘horrific’. She is seen on a previous TV appearance 

‘If you’re on the board of a care home company, a pandemic is one of things you think about as a potential damage to your business because of the number of older people it’s going to take out of the system,’ she said.

‘Curiously, ripping off the sticking plaster, in a hospital that has 92 delayed discharges, a pandemic would be quite useful because your hospital would work because these people would be taken out of the system.’

She added: ‘That sounds like it’s a horrific thing to say – but it is the case that somehow or other, we’ve put people in the wrong places by not having the kind of strategic views that we should have.

‘That means that politicians who don’t want to think about bad things before the election, need to think about putting income tax up even higher in order to pay for more care in care homes and they need to think about whether they reinstate geriatric hospitals.’

Her comments were reported by The Herald as the number of UK coronavirus cases climbed to 116, with one death, reported to be a woman in her 70s.

Official advice will be for the elderly to keep away from crowded public areas, including supermarkets and public transport, if a coronavirus epidemic takes hold.

Families would be told not to visit older relatives but to speak to them over the phone or via Skype.

Department of Health officials are also considering whether to ask patients who have recovered from the illness to volunteer to help their elderly neighbours.

These individuals would have a minimal chance of passing the illness on and could do the shopping or simply provide company.

Officials are drawing up specific advice on what precautions the elderly and patients with long term conditions should take during an epidemic.

Figures from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, show that between 8 and 9 per cent of over-80s who became infected died.

Coronavirus is also far more deadly for men than for women.

Latest figures from the World Health Organisation and Chinese scientists show that from all known cases, 1.7 per cent of women will die, compared with 2.8 per cent of men.

The Government believes this is the worst-case scenario, but has drawn up specific advice for the elderly.

They say older people should not make changes to their routines at this stage as their risk of contracting the disease is so low.

Giving evidence to the Commons health and social care select committee, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘One of the bits of advice we will give when this starts to run is for people who are older or who have pre-existing health conditions to have some degree of isolation from more public environments.

‘One of the key things on this – it is clear from the modelling – one of the best things we can do reduce the impact on older people and reduce the impact on the NHS as well is to isolate older people from the virus.

‘The difficulty is we need to make sure we do that without isolating them from society, exacerbating loneliness, providing barriers to social interactions and practical things like shopping and people coming into help them. The biggest thing we can do at this point is not to go too early.’

It is hoped that more healthcare for the elderly could be provided in their homes. This might include visits from nurses or video consultations to prevent them venturing out.

Professor Whitty added: ‘One of the things which is really remarkable in all past emergencies is the altruism of the British public. I think people will rally round.’