A Journal of the Plague Year (36)

 

April 21, 2020

In a very revealing article by Dr Max Pemberton in the Daily Mail (UK) , some of the real reasons behind the failure of the British medical establishment to tackle the corona crisis are laid bare. As expected, the real people who make things happen, the doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaning staff and everyone else can work wonders. But,

…It’s been fascinating to watch natural leaders taking charge in place of those we can now see were just in management positions because they’d been on the right courses. I’ve seen junior nurses step into the shoes of senior managers who have gone sick and bring a new passion.
Services haven’t disintegrated — in fact, if anything they have got more efficient. Long term we need to target resources at nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, healthcare assistants and porters — not the bureaucrats.

As in all bureaucratic organizations, eventually all the management positions are filled by the bean counters, MBAs, political hacks and talentless “managers”, exchanged between various management positions in the civil service, who know nothing about any science, medicine or nursing; in other words, the form-fillers and box-tickers. When the right people get going, Dr Pemberton says:

One of the things that has shocked me is the speed at which things are now done. It has forced people to prioritise jobs.
The NHS has had to start behaving more like a Silicon Valley start-up than the dusty, bureaucratic organisation it is known as.
Decisions that used to take months or even years because of endless, pointless form-filling and meetings are now made in less than the time it takes to boil a kettle.
This is how it should have been in the health service all along — but at some point the apparatchiks took over and stifled innovation.

Well, that’s what happens when everything is controlled by government.
On the business front, a similar picture of chaos and confusion  is apparent.

Michelle van Vuuren, who runs a London-based property company, turned her business into a PPE distributor working with Chinese suppliers last month as the virus began to spread around the world.

After failed attempts to contact NHS procurement services, Miss van Vuuren contacted Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s office on March 20.
She was subsequently passed to the Cabinet Office but her inquiries went ‘into a vacuum’ and were met with only an automated response.
Despite offering to sell millions of masks, gowns and aprons she said she had spent ‘five weeks hammering at the Government’s door’ without response.

And…

 

A British supplier said they were forced to sell millions of life-saving items overseas after attempts to equip the NHS were met with an ‘impenetrable wall of bureaucracy’.
Other firms complained they had ‘no choice’ about sending masks, respirators and other pieces of kit abroad because the Government had repeatedly ignored offers of help.

It’s pretty sad state of affairs for such an advanced country as the UK to be behind the eight-ball on such an elementary part of preparing for a health emergency. The other part of the problem, apart from the fossilized bureaucracy, is the just-in-time global supply chain. Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link and everyone in Britain, and other countries including Canada, are finding out that many strategic goods like protective equipment and drugs need to be manufactured at home, in house, for the needs of our citizens.

 

This is something that President Trump has been emphasizing for years: bring essential manufacturing back home. Perhaps the American people will now demand it of their feckless business community—and Canada will too.

While we all dearly love to hold the feet of our political leaders to the fire, expecting them all the time to be able to see into the future, like journalists and political talking heads, the “experts”, so beloved of the media-bitches of the press, are often wrong, more so than they would like us to know.

In an article in STAT : “Several months of magical thinking”, shows how even the best of the medical experts can misjudge events.

Most of the hang-ups and bungling has come from incompetent bureaucrats, over-regulation and pointless red tape in many countries. Even when spots of infection appeared around the world, the epidemiologists, who should have known better, were ignoring their own basic teaching:

 

Epidemiology 101 lesson: It takes time for a virus that spreads from person to person to hit an exponential growth phase in transmission, even if every new case was infecting on average two to three other people….“Everybody was in denial of this coming, including the U.S. And everybody got hit — just as simple as that,” Gary Kobinger, director of the Infectious Disease Research Center at Laval University in Quebec, told STAT.

 

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and an expert in the field, was quick off the mark. After saying in early January that he didn’t think that the Wuhan virus would turn into a pandemic, the rapid spread in China, and the frantic reactions of the Chinese, convinced him that it would be….

…Within days, Osterholm’s thinking shifted. By Jan. 20, he was warning the 3M Company — which makes N95 respirators — that the virus, in his opinion, would cause a pandemic. The company immediately moved to increase production.

Note that private industry was moving rapidly before any of the bureaucracy knew what was going on!

And Dr Fauci, the CDC Head, now on the President’s team was saying…

…Even in mid-February, Fauci was describing the risk to Americans as “relatively low,” saying that he hoped sustained human-to-human spread might not occur in the United States.

[snip]…

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, agrees that there was a kind of unreal quality to the emerging evidence as cases continued to climb….“There’s a sense for all of us pandemic influenza planners and responders and respiratory virus folks that look back at [the Spanish flu pandemic of] 1918 and say, ‘Well, we always need to prepare and be ready for that.’ But in the back of your mind it’s sort of ‘Yeah, but I’m not going to have to go through it…’”

 

That, strangely, is in the minds of everyone who is, or has been, part of emergency response operations, whether for a plague, nuclear accident, radiological disaster or whatever. It’s.. “yeah, this is the exercise, but it won’t really happen on our watch.”

Yeah, right.

Rebel Yell

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