Responding to the easing of social distancing announced by the Prime Minister today, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said:
“This virus can return with a vengeance, so the government is right to be cautious. There are two things now that will make the difference between success and failure – common sense and Test and Trace.
“The call went up to protect the NHS at the start of this emergency and the public answered – now the call is the same but instead of ‘stay at home’ the message is wash your hands, keep your distance. The range of advice for different settings is inevitably more complex and nuanced, and more open to abuse, but following it sensibly is the only way to keep ourselves and others safe.
“And we also need an effective Test and Trace system to stamp on local outbreaks as soon as they occur. This service is building up in England, but we will need to monitor it closely and we must be prepared to reimpose restrictions locally or nationally if that is needed.
“The NHS remains on tenterhooks with everyone aware the virus can strike again. In hospitals, surgeries, and clinics up and down the country, services are welcoming patients back but at nothing like normal capacity. Our members are clear – it is proving far more difficult to reopen than to close, and having to do so with the virus still present is like having one hand tied behind your back.
“We will also have to consider the implications of reduced social distancing, but we understand it will mean fewer restrictions in patient care settings with at least some services able to run at higher rates of occupancy than was envisaged. But it will remain a very different and much less productive world with the need for separate areas, social distancing arrangements and personal protective equipment (PPE), including face coverings for staff and visitors.
“We are not back to normal and if we are to defeat this terrible disease, it will require eternal vigilance.”