The UK suffered from “inadequate delays” in Government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, an expert has said.
Alison Rodger, professor of infectious diseases at the UCL Institute for Global Health, said the delays caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, particularly among older people in care homes.
Speaking at the UCL-Lancet lecture on lessons from the pandemic for science and public health, she also said the fact the UK had a higher death rate than some European countries, Australia and New Zealand is “cause for national shame”.
Prof Rodger said: “The Covid-19 pandemic, I think, laid bare clear differences in the effectiveness of different government responses, even in the face of mounting scientific evidence and advice around effective strategies to control the virus.
“I think the UK suffered from inadequate delay in Government responses and policies, which caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, particularly in older people in social care settings, and directly put at risk the lives of frontline health and social care staff – the staff from ethnic minority groups bearing a disproportionate burden.
“Healthcare staff already under enormous strain worked through the unprecedented demands of the pandemic, and there are now strong indications that the pressures and experiences of the last year have led to increased levels of stress, exhaustion and burnout.
“The impact of a pandemic on healthcare staff can’t be underestimated.
“I do think though (the fact) that the UK has a much higher death rate not only than other high-resource countries in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, also some lower middle income countries, is actually a cause for national shame.”
Prof Rodger added that the UK did not learn the lessons of the first wave of the pandemic, and the delays to the autumn and winter lockdown led to a huge increase in the number of people needing treatment in hospitals and intensive care by January.
However, she said while guidelines were slow to emerge at the start of the pandemic, the strength of guidance based on limited evidence was clearest in the UK’s “courageous approach to vaccination”.
Prof Rodger highlighted the “decision to delay the second dose of Covid-19 vaccines to ensure more people receive the first dose more quickly, with the aim of reducing cumulative mortality”.
“And this approach was subsequently vindicated, although the emerging dominance of the Delta variant does complicate this picture.”