PhysioUpdate 21st July 2022


Journal editors tell the government to stop 'gaslighting' the public over Covid-19 threats

The government has been urged to stop ‘gaslighting’ members of the public and be transparent about the pressures that Covid-19 continues to put on NHS staff.

That is the plea made by two prominent editors in the healthcare field – Kamran Abbasi from The BMJ and Alastair McLellan from the Health Service Journal – in a joint editorial published today (18 July).

‘Above all, the government must stop gaslighting the public and be honest about the threat the pandemic still poses to them and the NHS,’ they write. ‘Being honest with the public will have two positive results, it will encourage the public to modify behaviour and, we hope, provoke urgent reflection about how the NHS is in such a mess so soon after the nation was applauding it on their doorsteps.’

Gaslighting refers to relationships in which an abuser gains power and control over a victim

Breakdown imminent 

They warn that many parts of the NHS are close to breakdown – and that the ‘heart of the problem’ is the failure to recognise that the pandemic is still with us and that a return to some of the measures taken in the last two years is vital.

Far from 2022 being the year when everything returned to normal, the NHS has already experienced two fresh Covid waves. Weekly admission rates to English hospitals of those testing positive for Covid-19 have so far reached an average of more than 9,000 – compared to about 6,000 in 2021. The average in 2020 was just under 7,000.

While there had been hopes that the NHS would be operating better than before the pandemic, elective activity is actually about 10 per cent below 2019 levels.

Indeed, the editorial suggests that today may be the most difficult day the NHS has ever experienced’, with the extra pressures created by the heatwave and that most visible sign of failure – ambulances queuing outside hospitals.

The government must stop gaslighting the public and be honest about the threat the pandemic still poses to them and the NHS. Being honest ... will encourage the public to modify behaviour and, we hope, provoke urgent reflection about how the NHS is in such a mess ...

Masks and free tests needed again

Dr Abbasi and Mr McLellan suggest the link between infections and hospital admissions has clearly not been broken – even if the focus is solely on those being treated ‘primarily’ for the disease. As for deaths, the latest ONS figures indicate just under 24,000 fatalities ‘involving Covid’ in the first six months of 2022. Though this is substantially lower than the 66,000 recorded in the first half of 2021, it is more than the 21,000 people who died in the last six months of that year. 

Excess deaths from all causes are also still running above five-year averages before the pandemic, they note.

The two editors call for a return to some of the measures taken in the last two years, such as advising people to wear masks in crowded places, ensuring good ventilation, and re-introducing free tests for the public. Efforts must also be made to improve the population’s immunity through vaccination. The government must work out how it will support the sections of the population and the economy that will be affected by those measures, they add.

To read the editorial in full, visit: https://www.bmj.com/content/378/bmj.o1779




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