A former public health director has accused the government of “coming very close to lies” over the UK’s coronavirus death figures.
Professor John Ashton, former regional director of Public Health England, said the number of people dying with COVID-19 could be double what the public is being told.
This is because officials counts are not including deaths outside hospitals, such as those in the community or in care homes, he said.
All deaths are registered by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which is published data.
Prof Ashton, who is also a former president of the Faculty of Public Health, told Sky News: “At the moment, a lot of what’s going on in these briefings is coming very close to lies and we must prevent this from happening at all costs.”
He said: “It may be one and a half times what we’ve got…it may even be twice as many…you know if I was to say well if it’s 10, let’s call it 20….is my truth any better than their truth in this?
“We need to be able to see the data and crawl over it and really see what’s really going on.
“I mean what was really worrying over the last couple of days, it doesn’t seem the government actually knows how many doctors and nurses have died. And you thought, for goodness sake, the hospitals themselves should be able to tell you that.
“You just need a clerk in Whitehall somewhere to get the numbers from the hospitals and add it up on a piece of paper…it’s not a difficult task.”
The former health director also lambasted Health Secretary Matt Hancock for suggesting personal protective equipment (PPE) used by NHS staff is a “precious resource”.
He said the implication that health workers were wasting it is “beyond unacceptable”.
He spoke to Sky’s special correspondent Alex Crawford.
Question: How much credence do you put in the assertion that these healthcare professionals may have caught COVID-19 somewhere else other than their workplace?
Answer: Health care workers should not die doing their job so they should be subject to complete scrutiny and we should get a quick turnaround on that to know what’s going on.
Because lessons have to be learned on a day-by-day basis to stop other people becoming victims too.
Question: The health secretary spoke about treating PPE as a special resource…how does that resonate with you?
Answer: The idea that personal protection is a special resource is beyond unacceptable.
You have to give workmen and women the tools with which to do their job…and their job of work in the front line of this highly-contagious virus that can be fatal to health workers, as to anybody else, means they must have proper protection and you know, that’s not just a flimsy pinny, it’s actually proper equipment to be able to wear and to discard.
Let’s be 21st century about this, not Dickensian please.
You can’t keep people in the dark.
From the very outset they should have been taking people on a journey based on the facts because when it comes to things like making the lockdown stick, people need to be able to see where the rationale is for that and to believe what they’re being told.
Rather than what falls out from the second theme here, which is consistently over-promising and under-delivering with all the stuff about testing, about personal protection, with the numbers themselves where we don’t know where we are.
We really have got to behave as if we’re in a mature democracy here where we are in this together and everybody is fully in the picture.
But it doesn’t make things better if you tell lies…and at the moment, I think a lot of what’s going on in these briefings is coming very close to lies and we must prevent this from happening at all costs.
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Question: Do you find it curious that we got so much detail about even what the prime minister was doing in intensive care or in his ward and yet initially we didn’t get the data and detail about the number of health workers who have died?
Answer: I’m sure that each of us was shocked when the prime minister became ill and we’re all wishing him the best for his recovery.
But the amount of attention this is now getting, particularly since he’s on the mend compared to the double figures or more of health workers who’ve died or are very sick, I find really shocking in itself, because the NHS workers are putting themselves on the line for us.
Boris Johnson became ill because he hadn’t applied his own advice about looking out for himself and keeping himself safe from the virus.
I think we should be hearing a lot more about the health workers who are being put in harm’s way by the lack of personal protection.
Sky News has contacted the Department of Health for a response.