If you hadn’t heard by now, Boris Johnson has got coronavirus. Oh, and Matt Hancock (that’s right, the actual health secretary) has got it too.
In times like these, it’s good to know that there’s numerous stand-ins for the PM. Notoriously trustworthy people like, erm, Michael Gove, who filled in for the PM and Hancock at the daily press briefing.
In the last few days, there’s been a wave of gratitude towards the NHS from the British public. After hundreds of thousands of people volunteered to help the NHS during the pandemic, the nation shed a tear as the entire country clapped for health workers at 8pm on Thursday night. It was emotional.
But there’s also been quite a lot of bluster from Tory politicians. There was the failure to sign up to the EU ventilator scheme, which they blamed on “missing the deadline” (seems legit). And there’s the ongoing issue of NHS staff not being tested and not having adequate protective clothing.
There’s also the issue that the UK, by almost all estimates, doesn't have the capacity to cope with the upward curve in new cases that we’re likely to see over the next few weeks.
The government hasn’t wanted to talk about any of this, for obvious reasons.
Enter: The Independent’s political editor, Andrew Woodcock.
At the Downing Street briefing, Woodcock asked NHS chief executive Simon Stevens and Gove a key question about the health service’s capacity to respond to the pandemic.
In a question directed towards Stevens in particular, he asked if a reduction in beds and nurses is a regret.
Do you regret bed reductions and the failure to increase nurse training numbers during your tenure which left the NHS in the position where it entered this crisis with its critical care bed base among the worse in Europe, with Italy for example having twice as many ICU beds. And the UK having the lowest number of doctors and nurses per head amongst developed nations.
Isn’t the lesson from this crisis that the NHS needs more capacity at all times if it’s going to be ready to deal with this surge in demand? And it can’t be made to operate with no slack as it has under your watch?
Given that Stevens is an official and not a politician, "under your tenure" can be interpreted as a thinly-veiled reference to the party who have been in power since Stevens took his post in 2013 (and who've been in charge of NHS funding since 2010). And who is that? The Conservative Party, of course.
Gove has worked in various ministerial positions since 2013 and, under the premise that governments take “collective responsibility” for decisions, he's as responsible for this apparent shortcoming in resources and funding as anyone.
His facial expression when Woodcock asked this question hints that he might know it, too.
Let’s take a look at it in real-time, shall we?
On social media, people had their own thoughts...
Terrific question asking about regret in underfunding the NHS for years https://t.co/Nj50rzJPK9
To his credit, Stevens responded to the question in detail. He admitted that the NHS needs more staff and hospital beds. But he also said that over the last seven weeks they have freed up the equivalent of 50 hospitals to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.