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Dr David Rubens on coronavirus: 2 of 3

We talk by phone with Dr David Rubens, who we’ve interviewed several times over the years, little guessing that we would ever speak under a national lockdown due to a pandemic. Yet David points out that the risk has been known about, and reported on; why then has the UK failed so in its crisis management, so far?

On the rules about lockdown, David suggests that it’s done on a week by week basis; which tends to mean that things are addressed once they make headlines, weeks after they are occurring and could have been raised; such as mental health pressures of people in lockdown, and the risk of domestic violence. David makes the point that there should be an 18-month, a two to three year recovery programme, ‘not two or three weeks, and there hasn’t been a grown-up discussion from government.’ That’s because, for one thing, ‘they [Government] don’t know what the message is’. David says: “We understand that it’s emergent, and it’s unclear; but you should have a clear direction of travel; and that’s not done on a week by week basis. Corporations have gone beyond that, they are looking at what recovery looks like.” Another thing David raises is you don’t want to separate recovery from response; how does response lead smoothly into recovery; how to integrate people back into society ,and how to start the economy going?”

And while the health of yourself and your family is paramount, money is right up there for millions of people, enough that they can’t go to sleep at night, because of a dread in their stomach, David says; about ‘we can’t afford to eat next week’. While the government has made some very big decisions in terms of spending money, ‘that isn’t free money’, David points out; throwing money at these problems is not solving problems, he says. Over-arching, he says, is; why do we not have a plan, a strategy, and why is the Government not talking to the country in a grown-up way? On that note, he says that clapping for the NHS is great; except that the Health Service has been cut for years and clapping will not get PPE to hospitals.

On the practical side of treating (and monitoring) the virus, David says that without testing, and monitoring those tested, putting people in hospital makes hospitals a ‘breeding ground’ for the spread of Covid-19. As for making more, Nightingale, hospitals, where are the staff and equipment coming from. “One of the rules of crisis management,” David says, “the shortages are manpower, resources, and management skills, and we know you have manpower and resources lacking,” because there was no surge capacity before the coronavirus, thanks to under-resourcing of the NHS. Besides, a hospital is not only about medical staff; necessary also are cleaners, cooks, drivers, maintenance, management and admin people, the supply chain, and the man on the gate: “It isn’t that simple.”

David suggests further that the UK authorities did not understand how to bring in expertise: “The fact that people are in a Cabinet, does not mean they are an expert at crisis management,” just as a board member is not necessarily a crisis manager. David queries why the Army – which does logistics management – was not brought in, or rather; why not brought in to do more than sit in on meetings.

For the third and final part of this interview, click here:

Picture by Mark Rowe; Dr David Rubens speaking at IFSEC 2019 in London.

Further reading from the ISRM website, lessons learned from the virus.


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