Experts expressed “very high” levels of concern about the possibility of a second spike of Covid-19 cases at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus.
Head of the British Medical Association (BMA) Dr Chaand Nagpaul told MPs: “At the moment we’re not doing everything we should in trying to contain the virus.
“If I look even at something as simple as our messages on social distancing: we’re told that social distancing is still two metres, or one metre plus.
“Do you think any member of the public understands what one metre plus means? What does the plus mean? Many don’t really understand this because it’s not clear and they’re not social distancing.”
Dr Nagpaul criticised the Government’s “mixed messaging” saying a more “robust approach” was needed to enforce safety measures.
Speaking more specifically about guidance on wearing face masks, Dr Nagpaul said the Government had made an announcement but then left people with “free will whether to wear them”.
“You then follow that up with a very systematic approach to make sure that happens,” he said.
“What I mean by suppressing is you take an attitude that says: we want to do absolutely everything to make sure the infection doesn’t spread. That needs a much more robust approach.
“The point is that I’m not sure that sense of clear, single-minded determination to do everything we can is being done and that’s what I mean by suppressing.”
In its submission paper for the APPG, the BMA also said that the Government’s initial response to the outbreak “was marked by a failure to adequately prepare”.
The union said that the Government now needs to provide a detailed plan on how it will provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the event of a second wave.
Meanwhile, Dr Nagpaul warned the NHS is entering its “busiest” time of year and is already facing a “huge backlog of care”.
He said the system needs to “coexist” by treating Covid-19 patients, as well as non-Covid-19 patients and those who suffer winter flu.
But he said that a second spike should not be seen as an “inevitability”.
He added: “We need to make sure that the current backlog is dealt with because the patients who have not been seen are patients who might have urgent problems – cardiac patients, respiratory patients, neurological patients.
“We need to systematically make sure that those patients who are most in need, who haven’t received treatment, are treated now.”
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned of challenges “exhausted staff” could face if the NHS faced tackling a spike of cases while trying to rebuild services.
He told the APPG: “I would say in relation to the second spike issue or something coming, the levels of concern among our members – the people who are leading NHS trusts, who are leading in primary care and all levels in the systems – is very high.
“There’s real concern about winter and the compounding factors there, but also about an earlier spike.”
Mr Dickson added non-Covid-19 productivity in NHS trusts was currently at about 60 per cent.
He called for an “Amazon-style” way for the health and care system to order PPE whereby they can order it and have it arrive the next day.