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The deadly myth of a ‘Second Wave’

Is talk of a second wave of COVID-19 stopping the NHS from doing its real job?

We have all lived through extraordinary times in the last six months. But none more so than those who have been working in health, putting their lives on the line to to fight the COVID pandemic. Despite the Government flipping between complacent and chaotic, the line held and the NHS was not overwhelmed. Now with cases and deaths levelling off, is it time for healthcare professionals to return to business as usual?

Well not quite, it is said. With the ongoing debate over the pace of easing lockdown, the safety of sending children back to school, and the odd alarming but isolated regional spike in cases, the Prime Minister has raised the spectre of a ‘Second Wave’ – a new surge of cases which could hit in the winter and put us back to square one.

And yet it’s an idea which seems to have little traction with experts. There is no agreed scientific definition, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not regard it as a helpful way of looking at the problem. ‘People are still thinking about seasons. What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus and this one is behaving differently,’ the WHO has said. ‘It’s going to be one big wave. It’s going to go up and down a bit.’

Why does this matter? Because we urgently need to start thinking about everything else that makes people ill. As new NHS performance figures reveal, waiting times for treatment have rocketed, with six out of eight targets for cancer treatment missed. If COVID distracts us from the big picture, the consequences will be fatal.

We cannot be complacent on the threat of COVID spikes, but we cannot be monopolised by it. Whatever ‘the new normal’ means in clinical practice, it must include treating the full spectrum of health conditions.