The most serious shortage of all

Before COVID-19 manifested itself, several agencies had identified the UK and the USA as being best prepared for a pandemic emergency. This was evidently not the case.

Shortages – sometimes the absence – of vital equipment exposed weakness in the NHS logistical chain. Such shortages were made good relatively quickly, and at no little expense. Lessons were learned.

The most serious shortage of all, however, was one not easy to solve quickly: medical staff. (The Italian experience, early in the pandemic, of critical staffing problems due to fatigue, cross infection and stress was a stark warning the NHS.) Nightingale units were ready in record time, but they arrived with a problem: how to staff NHS and Nightingale hospitals fully. It could not be done.

Sadly, no amount of Thursday evening hand-clapping and congratulation for the hard pressed NHS staff could provide much needed relief.

But volunteers did come forward to worked in all manner of ways. However, if it were not for the complicated bureaucracy involved many more would-be volunteers would not have been confused and frustrated. Some twenty-one pieces of evidence (including e-learning) was required (see ‘Bureaucracy baffles retired doctors’, The Times, 2 January 2021, p.9).

There is a remedy to this most serious of all shortages. Had it been in place before the pandemic it would have been of immense benefit to the NHS.




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