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We don't have a public health crisis, we have a public healthcare crisis...

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Said Sobers in the comments here:

… The current alleged ‘second wave’ is nothing of the sort, its just the NHS being incapable to coping with winter demand as is ever the case. Deaths are the only true statistic we can rely on in these reality bending days – even the NHS and PHE etc can’t fudge how many dead people there are. And the number of funerals tells us we are currently experiencing an entirely within normal parameters winter. The ‘second wave’ is a figment of the failings of the PCR test, in fact its exacerbating the problem by causing thousands of NHS staff to be ‘off sick’ when there’s nothing wrong with them.

Well, yes and no.

The NHS always ‘struggles’ in winter. Presumably it has enough capacity for most months of the year, but not quite enough for winter.

Excess deaths are not particularly high (so far, touch wood) during the ‘second wave’. But that is not the metric. If Covid-19 were completely incurable and people just dropped dead within a couple of hours, this would not place any particular strain on the NHS. That’s would be a health crisis, but not a healthcare crisis.

The issue is that Covid-19 is very curable in most cases, but treating it is very labour intensive. There are currently 32,000 people in hospital being treated for Covid-19, which is about one-fifth of the total number of beds in the NHS. Which is either ‘not much’ or ‘a heck of a lot’ depending on your point of view.

What interests me, as an economist and armchair general (most of whose Covid-19 related predictions have been wrong or unproven so far, lolz), is the cost-benefit analysis.

The lockdown appears to have lopped £500 billion off GDP this year. Marginal tax rates in the UK are about 50%, so the government UK has racked up an extra £250 billion of debt. These numbers are subject to large margin of error, but it’s clearly huge amounts. That’s money we’ll never get back.

If we’d had a milder, saner and tolerable level of lockdown, there would have been more infections, patients and deaths of course (the vulnerable and elderly can do the sensible thing and self-isolate; that doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t go to school either). But how much extra money would the NHS have needed to be able to ramp up capacity to be able to cure most of the extra patients? You can’t train up doctors and nurses overnight, but you can pay them more generous overtime, poach some from abroad, delegate more nursing task to less qualified people and medical students, take people off unnecessary tasks like smoking patrols and put them on cleaning duty etc.

The normal NHS budget is £140 billion a year, we could have given them a temporary 50% increase, and it would still only have cost a fraction of the economic cost of the lockdown. We could have doubled it and still more than broken even.


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