If we are serious about ‘living with Covid’, we must prepare for the worst | The Telegraph

Former Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once wrote, “ I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best ”. It’s a phrase that rings so true in so many walks of life. I often say that it is essential to have a plan b, c and d. In business, you always want a downside cashflow, not just the base case. 

We all hope the worst of the Covid crisis is over, but we must plan for more tough times. A number of scenarios could unfold: among them a really bad flu epidemic, a new variant that evades the vaccines, or a brutally cold winter that fills the hospitals. Meanwhile the NHS is at full stretch to try to reduce the waiting times on operations and diagnostics, with its capacity is reduced by ongoing Covid precautions. GPs are still reluctant to see patients face to face, and this is putting additional pressure on hospitals, with health problems spotted later and multiple problems are piling up. 

The reality is there is no spare capacity for something unforeseen. Even pre Covid, winter meant headlines screaming “ NHS in worst crisis ever”. So lets remember Disraeli’s wise words. Let’s prepare for the worst. We must rebuild the Nightingale hospitals now, this Autumn, before it is too late. Some 15,000 beds was prepared last year under the Nightingale plan. They were barely touched because retired medics weren’t properly utilised.

There is a short, sharp army recruitment advert running at the moment. It’s slogan is Fail, Learn, Win. The truth is we failed at the start of the pandemic. We were not prepared. So let’s learn the lesson. We must be prepared. Then we can win the battle against Covid. We can win by being ready and being confident enough to live with it. The chances are it will be a forever battle. 

We must now put many thousands of retired medics doctors, nurses on standby. A Medical Reserve, along the lines of the Territorial Army. Sure, they may need some refresher training. Fine, let’s do it now. It could be a real community motivator, a coming together for so many – and it would give a sense of purpose. It must be done in a smart, non-bureaucratic way. Some 40,000 retired medics offered to come back to help last year, but only 1 in 8 were engaged due to overwhelming bureaucracy. Absurd. We must apply some basic common sense. 

Yes it will cost money. But it will be cheap at the price if it helps avoid tier restrictions, more lockdowns, more furlough. It’s purpose could be enduring. Every winter the NHS needs more capacity, we would have both beds and staff. This could possibly be a contingency template. We have to be prepared to try new things, then monitor, tweak and adjust them. A culture of continuous improvement is to be welcomed, not feared. 

It would be unforgivable to be caught unprepared again. The impact on our nation, on our people, on our confidence, on our economy would be both devastating and deeply divisive. Relying on boosters is not enough; take up will be much lower. Vaccinating children by coercion is not enough, it will lead to huge anger amongst many parents. 

The best way to avoid all this is to put in place a proper plan which will enable us to live with Covid. The Nightingale Plan, with a Medical Reserve force, could implemented in the next few weeks, and it would give the NHS the confidence to carry on with its essential day to day, non Covid work, whatever the virus throws at us all. 

It’s time to learn, its time for action.