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Why are charities lying down before the Covid steamroller?


THE health charity sector has been in a uniquely strong position to challenge Government lockdown policy since March 2020. The abject failure of NHS senior management to do so has, of course, been lamentable, but they are subject to the diktats of central government. By contrast, health charities are independent entities with capacity to lobby Parliament and criticise the executive; many of them boast of this in their literature.

Health charities draw on a large reservoir of public goodwill; combined with their subject expertise this enables them to mould, not merely reflect, public opinion, giving them heft to influence government policymaking. Moreover, given their close relationship with the communities whose interests they serve, they have a keener insight than most into the deleterious lockdown consequences which have unfolded; indeed, they have commissioned a number of reports highlighting these issues. All of which make their unwillingness genuinely to speak truth to power over the past fourteen months regrettable.

A report published last month by the Patients Association is a useful window into this matter. Pandemic Patient Experience II, based on an online survey conducted between February and April 2021, is a follow-up to a similar study produced in September 2020 during the first lockdown. The findings of both (for ease of reference conflated here into ‘the report’), drawing on 1,400 respondents, provide sobering confirmation of what was inevitable once the National Health Service became the Covid Health Service. That is, non-Covid NHS patients are getting a scandalously raw deal.

Probably the starkest takeaway is that 66 per cent of respondents with new, changing or existing conditions reported struggling to access at least one form of non-Covid care. The three areas where patients have fared worst in this regard are – top of the list – GP appointments, diagnostic services and dental services. Significant issues are also identified with access to medicines, surgery, physical rehabilitation, mental health services and social care. Personal testimonies of those whose relatives have died alone in care homes due to visiting restrictions are included, reinforcing the harrowing reports we have all seen over the past year.  

The one bright spot for the authors is the experience of vaccination, where take-up and ‘overall levels of patient satisfaction have been high’. But in large measure the findings paint a bleak picture, showing serious, in some areas catastrophic, outcomes for non-Covid patients. To that extent the survey has rendered a valuable service. Unfortunately, what follows subverts much of this good work. The logical, not to mention humane, response of a charity exposing such alarming information should be to proclaim, loudly and authoritatively: ‘Never again’. No more lockdowns and no more state-run campaigns of fear and guilt such that sick people die at home rather than seek the treatment they need. Instead, we are given a woke and, in the circumstances, woefully anodyne set of ‘principles for ensuring that all patients, disabled people, carers and others are able to have the best possible experience’.

The first of these – naturally – is the shibboleth of recognising the impact of ‘the pandemic crisis’ on minority ethnic and other groups, who, we are reminded, ‘already face discrimination and inequality’. In this respect, it is a source of mild embarrassment to the authors that the demographic of respondents is 84 per cent White British and 86 per cent heterosexual: ‘We regret that we were unable to generate a more diverse profile of respondents.’ Other recommendations include the provision of ‘clear, concise and timely communication’, ensuring carers get the support they need, and that ‘access needs are respected and met, including providing materials in different formats and languages.’ All very worthy, to be sure, though scarcely rising to the occasion.

But then, like all other registered health charities, the Patients Association is in lockstep with the Government concerning lockdown and vaccination. In February 2021, it averred that ‘only lockdown brings infection levels down in an unvaccinated population, and therefore that only lockdown enables the NHS to keep functioning.’ Its affirmation of another Covid article of faith puts it all in perspective: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic is the most extensive crisis to face the United Kingdom since the Second World War; on a global scale its impact may be even higher.’ And – unused Nightingale Hospitals notwithstanding – the NHS was ‘overwhelmed by the winter wave of Covid-19’. Seen through these distorting lenses the threatening, manmade features mapped by the report are merely ancillary objects on a much wider apocalyptic landscape.

If the remit of the forthcoming public inquiry includes (as it must) the question of whether lockdown was justified, it seems this won’t be the result of direct pressure from the charity sector. ‘It is clear,’ says the association, echoing the one Covid opposition narrative permitted in polite society, ‘that all nations of the UK have repeatedly locked down too late, and eased restrictions too early.’

Yet, if the disease is, as Covid orthodoxy insists, still infinitely worse than its lockdown and vaccine cure, how telling that the report found ‘very few respondents had had Covid-19’ or suffered bereavement as a result of the virus. Should not this have given the authors pause, at least demanded a tempering of the World War Two rhetoric? Then again, is there anything which can shake the liberal metropolitan Blob – sadly, it seems, including charity sector leadership – out of its Covid cognitive dissonance? Even the dramatic loss of income experienced by UK charities in the last year, running into the billions, has failed to achieve this, despite the calamitous repercussions for vital cancer research, for example. It’s a pandemic, you see. 

The report’s unquestioning stance towards vaccines merits its own scrutiny. The survey ought to have quizzed respondents – but didn’t – on adverse drug reactions; this much is demanded by the hundreds of thousands of ADRs (a fraction of the actual total), including more than a thousand deaths, recorded on the MHRA Yellow Card Scheme data-base. Rather than merely ask the vaccinated whether they were ‘given enough information about the vaccine’, it should have specifically queried whether they received the patient information leaflet, as there have been numerous reports of this mandatory requirement not being met. These are things, after all, on which the association’s founder would surely have insisted. According to its new strategy document, the part-time teacher Helen Hodgson convened the charity in 1963 following ‘safety scandals, such as thalidomide, and concerns about patients being part of experiments, sometimes without their knowledge.’ On the other hand, was the integrity of this aspect of the report compromised from the outset, given that one of the association’s corporate members is a certain AstraZeneca?

The Patients Association performs notable charitable work, and I wish it well. But it has not allowed the gravity – and anomaly – of its own important research findings on Covid to provoke an internal great reset away from lockdown endorsement nor – for whatever reason – calibrated that research to urgent lines of vaccine enquiry. Thus, like the charity sector in general, it has only partially met the pressing needs of the public.  

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Stuart Major
Stuart Major
Stuart Major is an independent scholar based in Sussex.

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