On Friday, I set out some of the data that has emerged from the Italian health services in the past week. The link is here on my blog and here on ConHome.

If the data from Italy is replicated elsewhere and we are not ourselves in the most vulnerable groups does that mean we have less reason to implement the isolation and social spacing advice?  The answer is absolutely not – for a number of reasons.

  • We may be in the group that exhibits few if any symptoms, but might still be incubating the virus and be infectious to others. It is part of being a responsible citizen to minimise the risk we may pose to others, especially those more vulnerable than ourselves
  • There is a large proportion of the population, including younger patients, who may contract the disease and who, although they are more likely to survive, may still require hospitalisation. This could have a severe impact on the capacity of the NHS to cope particularly if it resulted in admission to already overstretched ICU services. By taking unnecessary risks with virus transmission we could literally be putting others at greater risk of death if the services they need are blocked.
  • According to some of the Italian figures, twelve per cent of those who have been treated in intensive care are aged between 19 and 50. Around 52 per cent are between 51 and 70 years old, with the remainder all over 70. Better data will allow us to determine the length of time that intensive care beds are occupied by these younger patients and thus how much capacity overall has diminished. We are also likely to find out that a number of these cases are themselves serious and, potentially, fatal.
  • If healthcare services become overwhelmed for Coronavirus victims, the same will be true of other health conditions. The more that hospital beds, especially ICU beds, are occupied by those who could have avoided contracting the virus, the fewer beds (and available staff) will be available for those who have a heart attack, stroke or other potentially fatal conditions. There is also the possibility that avoidable spread to healthcare workers themselves will reduce the available manpower and exacerbate the capacity problem.

This is not only a test for our medical services but for all members of our society. Reducing the risk to ourselves and others is how we can help ensure that services are available for the most needy. Access to healthcare, free at the point of use, is a right that we have in this country but like all rights it comes with responsibilities. In this case, it means not risking the additional burden on the NHS or life-saving treatment for others out of a misplaced sense of personal freedom or lack of personal responsibility.

You may also be interested in this piece in the Sunday Times magazine: Coronavirus: how pandemic of the past have changed the world.

This article is a cross-post from Dr Fox’s blog.