Britain was 20 days behind rest of Europe in fighting coronavirus

Fatal effect of NHS staffing shortfall: Britain was 20 days behind the rest of Europe in fighting coronavirus because NHS was under-resourced, report suggests

  • Report carried by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 
  • It took 54 days for the UK to bring the crucial R rate down below 1 for four days
  • Also found NHS had fewer beds and fewer staff per capita than European average 

Britain has been harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic because the NHS was under-resourced and under-staffed, a major report suggests.

It took the UK 20 days longer than the rest of Europe to bring the first wave under control in the spring, according to a comparison of healthcare.

The 237-page report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which assesses health provision and patient outcomes across Europe, warns that it took 54 days for the UK to bring the crucial R rate down below 1 for four consecutive days.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that it took 54 days for the UK to bring the crucial R rate down below 1 for four consecutive days

Only Sweden took longer, at 58 days, whereas the European average was 34 days. The NHS staff crisis was found to be the ‘most binding constraint’ on the nation’s response to the first wave. A lack of contact tracing capacity also hit the UK’s ability to tackle the virus.

The report found that the NHS had fewer beds and fewer staff per capita than the European average – despite spending more on healthcare.

It warned: ‘On a per capita basis, the United Kingdom had some of the highest numbers of infections and deaths from Covid-19 in the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, together with Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. 

By mid-November 2020, over 1.4million cases of Covid-19 were registered in the United Kingdom, and more than 52,000 deaths from Covid-19 were recorded.’

It added: ‘A lack of health personnel was the most binding constraint to respond to the surge in demand for intensive care, putting intense pressure on existing staff.

‘The United Kingdom has fewer hospital beds per head of population than nearly all European countries, with the exception of Sweden and Denmark.’

The report said that before the pandemic there were half as many beds per head of population in Britain than the EU average – 2.5 beds per 1,000 population compared with five beds per 1,000 across EU countries.

It took the UK 20 days longer than the rest of Europe to bring the first wave under control in the spring

For intensive care unit beds, the UK had 10.5 per 100,000 compared with 12.9 beds on average across EU countries.’

However, per capita health spending in the UK remains well above the EU average – 3,154 euros per capita, compared with an EU average of 2,572 euros.

The report also lays bare the impact of lockdown on the UK economy, saying it ‘was one of the most severe among European countries. When compared to the first quarter of 2020, GDP fell by nearly 20 per cent in the second quarter’.

Stefano Scarpett, of the OECD, said: ‘The way in which the virus entered the countries, the policy responses, the severity of the lockdown, are all factors which explain the length that it took to bring back the R below one.’

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