Watch: Whitty blasts lockdown sceptics who say COVID is being ‘prioritised over other illnesses’
Claims that coronavirus is being prioritised over other serious illnesses are a “complete inversion of reality”, England’s chief medical officer has said.
Professor Chris Whitty hit back at accusations that the government and its advisers were focusing on the pandemic at the expense of diseases like cancer, during an appearance at the Commons Health and Social Care Committee this morning.
Speaking on the day after COVID cases in the UK hit their highest level since the start of the pandemic, Whitty told MPs: “The idea that the lockdowns caused the problems with things like cancer is a complete inversion of reality.
“If we had not had the lockdowns, the whole system would have been in deep, deep trouble and the impact on things like heart attacks and strokes, and all the other things people must still come forward for when they have them, would have been even worse than it was.”
He added: “I think this is sometimes said by people who have no understanding of health at all. But I don’t think it’s said by anyone who’s serious, if I’m honest. And when they say it it’s usually because they want to make a political point.
“The reality is, and if you ask any doctor working in any part of the system, they will say this, that what is threatening our ability to do cancer, what is threatening our ability to do all these things, is the fact that so much of the NHS effort, so many of the beds are having to be put over to COVID and that we’re having to work in a less efficient way because COVID is there.
“Finding a way to manage COVID in a way that minimises the impact on everything else is absolutely central to what we’re trying to do.”
During Wednesday night’s Downing Street press conference, Whitty suggested that people prioritise their social interactions in order to curb the rise of Omicron.
He told people “don’t mix with people you don’t have to” at events that are not among the most important to them.
But Steve Brine, Tory MP for Winchester, hit out at medical advisers “running the show” when it came to making decisions about restrictions that could harm businesses in the run up to Christmas.
Speaking after last night’s Downing Street press conference, Brine said: “I could see why there was no statement to the House because there was no new government policy announced, and then professor Chris Whitty answered a question from the BBC and at a stroke the chief medical officer changed government policy and put this country, certainly hospitality… into effective lockdown.
“Can I ask – yes or no – is what professor Whitty said last night now the policy of this government? That we should socialise carefully? What, in practical legal terms, does that mean?”
Joy Morrissey, the MP for Beaconsfield, also blasted Whitty for urging people to not mix unless needed.
In a now-deleted tweet, she wrote: “Perhaps the unelected COVID public health spokesperson should defer to what our ELECTED Members of Parliament and the prime minister have decided.
“I know it’s difficult to remember but that’s how democracy works. This is not a public health socialist state.”
Recent figures showed that NHS writing times have hit record levels, with the number of people waiting for non-urgent treatment in England rising to 5.98 million.
Some 312,665 people were having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment in October this year, up from 300,566 in the previous month and nearly double the number waiting a year earlier, in October 2020, which was 167,067.
While lockdowns have exacerbated the problems of waiting times, the waiting list was already growing prior to the pandemic.
In the five years before COVID, the waiting list grew from 2.9 million in January 2015 to 4.4 million by December 2019.
Watch: Whitty: 'Record will be broken a lot' in COVID case numbers