NHS ambulance and A&E staff are braced ‘with a great deal of trepidation’ for the fall-out from the mass opening of pubs in England on Saturday, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, warned today (Wednesday 1 July).
If that happens, Unite will blame the ‘gung-ho and mixed messaging’ from prime minister Boris Johnson for putting too much emphasis on the easing of the lockdown and not sufficient weight on the need to still follow the social distancing rules.
The warning from Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, came as Britons were estimated to spend £200 million in pubs this weekend, as the hospitality sector reopens on Saturday (4 July).
Already Unite’s 3,000 ambulance members have reported in the last few weeks an increase in accidents at illegal parties; more young people saying they have Covid-19 symptoms; and an increase in ‘non-essential’ calls that could be dealt with by such services as NHS 111.
There has also been an increase in the use of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’, at these illegal parties. These canisters can be purchased cheaply off the internet.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Our ambulance members have reported an increase in calls in recent weeks and, unfortunately, some of them are related to the flouting of the social distancing rules.
“So it is with deep concern that our members in the ambulance service and in A&E departments are preparing themselves for the fall-out from a badly behaved minority when pubs reopen on Saturday.
“If that happens, we will blame the gung-ho mixed messaging from Boris Johnson who has put more emphasis on easing the lockdown and people enjoying themselves this weekend than with telling people to adhere strictly to the social distancing measures.
“Unite is not trying to restrict people’s enjoyment and we fully support our members in the hospitality sector who have had a really tough time since March.
“But people need to heed the advice of England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty who has said social distancing remains vital, otherwise the rates of Covid-19 infection will rise again, as has been seen in Leicester.
“Sunday (5 July) is the NHS’ 72nd birthday, so it would be a rich irony that after weeks of Thursday evening clapping and warm words of ministerial praise, dedicated NHS staff spend the weekend clearing up drunken vomit due to mixed messaging.”
Chair of the Unite ambulance committee Debbie Wilkinson said: “Our members are bracing themselves with a great deal of trepidation about what is going to happen this weekend, when excessive drinking could see many more visits to A&E departments.
“Ambulance colleagues have noticed for some time that some people are not following the rules and this is really serious as we have more than 43,000 deaths in the UK from Covid-19. We have seen a rise in young, fit people signalling that they have coronavirus symptoms.
“There has been an increase in accidents at illegal parties, as well as the use of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’.
“Sadly, we have also seen more people getting in touch, following the lockdown, with very serious illnesses, such as cancer, who should have been seen during the last few months. For some, unfortunately, it is too late.
“People need to behave with responsibility and consideration for others this weekend and not put the NHS under further pressure.”