This weekend, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the COVID-19 global health emergency is over, downgrading the virus from a pandemic over three years since it declaring it in March 2020. But is it really? In a country which is now seeing the highest rate of excess deaths in Europe, scores of people now too ill to work as a result of their infection, and the fallout in our health service to rumble on in the background, is Scotland really in a place to say we have recovered from Covid?
How did we get into this mess in the first place? Through the initial phases, when the country was continuously brought in and out of lockdowns, the Scottish Government in particular was praised for maintaining more strict social distancing measures than the rest of the UK, introducing a more detailed tiered system for moving through lockdowns, and for keeping the public informed through regular press briefings. This even became a point of international attention, where Sturgeon herself was regularly cited as an example when studies began to show that countries with female leaders tended to fair better through the pandemic.
On the face of it, these were important measures which worked in keeping the public calm. However, as time moved on and the cracks began to show, it is clear that the Scottish government were no better at handling the transition period than their Westminster counterparts. Equal levels of confusion regarding rules and regulations, where could open and where had to remain shut, when and where to use a face covering, all of which differed by local authority for months. Pandemic fatigue was brushed off as a lack of commitment to public health, and now the health service, and the workers within it who have sacrificed so much, are still suffering the consequences. I’ve written about this numerous times already and yet no improvement, or plans for improvement, appear to be in sight. They have been shamefully abandoned in favour of chasing meaningless positive press in an attempt to save the government’s image while our collective health outcomes maintain a downward spiral.
As we have previously covered, the long term impacts of the pandemic on general health outcomes in Scotland has been dire, but not in the ways predicted. The ‘cancer timebomb’ was thankfully never realised, but other causes of death have been increasing in recent years, speculated to have been caused by alcohol harm.
The pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives. Levels of poverty have increased, the attainment gap has widened, waiting lists for treatments are longer and the economy is in the gutter. All of these, or a combination of them, will have an affect on the physical and mental health of the population and the sooner the government realises this, treating social problems with the urgency they warrant, the sooner we can create the caring society we need to continue addressing them in a way which doesn’t just provide a sticking plaster of emergency funding.
As well as these indirect issues, the problems caused directly by Covid also linger, as an estimated 187,000 people in Scotland (3.5% of the population) are suffering from long Covid. While the condition lacks a specific definition, or criteria for diagnosis, it is the generally accepted term for those who continue to suffer new or worsening symptoms long after they are infected by Covid-19.
Studies at the start of this year found that the impact of long Covid has forced millions around the world to change their working habits, or give up on employment altogether due to severe ill health. This was also the subject of headlines in the US late last year, where it was found that, with 11 million job vacancies and up to four million out of work due to long Covid, it was directly having an impact on their widely reported labour shortages. Over here, 78% of long Covid sufferers surveyed reported a change in working habits, while a report by the TUC found that two thirds of long Covid sufferers were being unfairly treated at work as a result of the condition and requiring workplace adjustments.
These people also feel abandoned by our health service as, without a specific criteria for diagnosis, treatment is a postcode lottery of affordability and availability. We cannot lose sight of Covid, and its mishandling, being direct proponents of the situation we now face, having accelerated the need for solutions to problems which already existed, but were previously hidden by publicity and distraction.
The Scottish Government must, with urgency, commit to making the NHS a priority. Here at Common Weal, our health policy is shaping up to be a comprehensive overhaul of clinical management and process which will save our NHS from the managed downward spiral we are currently witnessing. Read all about it in our latest publication, Sorted: a handbook for a better Scotland, before the release of our most extensive health policy yet later this year.