UK COVID-19 Daily: doctors' lives 'still at risk' over PPE

  • Tim Locke, Medscape.com

  • UK Medical News
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These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about Tuesday.

PPE: Many Doctors Still Don't Feel Fully Protected at Work

Despite Government promises of PPE deliveries, a BMA survey with almost 2000 responses (3rd-6th April) found that:

  • More than two-thirds of doctors said they do not feel safely protected from coronavirus infection at work

  • More than half of doctors working in high-risk environments said there were either shortages or no supply at all of adequate face masks, 65% did not have access to eye protection

  • 55% felt pressured to work in a high-risk area despite not having adequate PPE

In a statement, BMA Council Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "Despite assurances from the Government that personal protective equipment is making its way to the front line, this snapshot survey reveals a very different picture - healthcare workers in the UK simply do not have enough protective equipment to keep them safe.” 

He continued: "Doctors report being put into situations which clearly contravene the PHE guidance issued last week. They’ve told us they are pressurised to see a patient without adequate protection, or to perform a high-risk procedure where they are at risk of becoming infected, or where they may go on to infect another patient – and all because they don’t have the right PPE. They are putting themselves and the lives of their patients at risk."

The BMA's warning came after it paid tribute to another doctor who died after testing positive for COVID-19, Cardiff based heart surgeon, Dr Jitendra Rathod. 

Chair of the BMA’s Welsh Council, Dr David Bailey, said in a statement: “Our condolences go out to Dr Rathod’s family, friends and colleagues.

"His death will be felt across the medical community as we grapple with the devastating impact of COVID-19 on our communities.”

In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19

 Condition Check

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, currently deputising for Boris Johnson, took the daily Downing Street briefing.

The Prime Minister is in intensive care at St Thomas' Hospital in London after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened.

Mr Raab said the PM was stable, and: "He's receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any assistance. He's not required any mechanical ventilation, or non-invasive respiratory support, he remains in good spirits."

He continued: "I'm confident he'll pull through, because if there's one thing I know about this Prime Minister, he's a fighter. And he'll be back at the helm leading us through this crisis in short order." 

Read more on how Boris Johnson went from 'mild symptoms' of COVID-19 to needing critical care.

Earlier it was announced that if Mr Raab also becomes unwell, Chancellor Rishi Sunak would take over.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove is now self-isolating because a family member displayed COVID-19 symptoms. 

Another politician currently in hospital with COVID-19 symptoms is Labour MP Tony Lloyd. He's being treated at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Deaths

Another 786 UK hospital COVID-19 deaths were announced on Tuesday, higher than Monday's figure, which could have been lower because of weekend reporting. That brought the total to 6159.

In English hospitals, 758 COVID-19 deaths were reported on Tuesday, with patients aged between 23 and 102. Twenty-nine patients aged between 23 and 99 had no known underlying health conditions.  

Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance gave an update on whether there were any positive signs in the latest data: "It's possible that we're beginning to see the beginning of change in terms of the curve flattening a little bit. We won't know that for sure, for a week or so." 

And he wouldn't be drawn on reviewing the lockdown: "It'll be evidence-based and so we'll rely on the evidence we get from the impact of the measures that have already been taken."

Out of Hospital Deaths

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) issued its weekly report on COVID-19 deaths in England and Wales. The daily figures we get each day are hospital deaths. ONS now reports on any death where COVID-19 is mentioned on a death certificate, even if it wasn't confirmed by testing.

Of the deaths registered in the week ending March 27th, 539 deaths mentioned 'novel coronavirus (COVID-19)', which is 4.8% of all deaths. 

The previous week, COVID-19 deaths accounted for 1% of all deaths.

Of the latest ONS figures, 92.9% (501 deaths) occurred in hospitals. The rest were in hospices, care homes, and private homes.

Was Closing Schools Necessary? 

School closures will have little impact on COVID-19 control, a review of evidence by University College London (UCL) found. The study is published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal and was based on evidence from flu epidemics and other coronaviruses. 

"We know from previous studies that school closures are likely to have the greatest effect if the virus has low transmissibility and attack rates are higher in children. This is the opposite of COVID-19," said UCL's Prof Russell Viner, one of the study authors.

"Policymakers need to be aware of the equivocal evidence when considering school closures for COVID-19 given the profound and long-lasting effect they will have on children - particularly the most disadvantaged."

Experts have commented via the Science Media Centre. 

Prof Neil Ferguson, director, MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London, said: "While school closure as a measure on its own is predicted to have a limited effectiveness in controlling COVID-19 transmission, when combined with intense social distancing it plays an important role in severing remaining contacts between households and thus ensuring transmission declines. While this new paper reviews some of the modelling our group undertook of school closure for less intensive mitigation, it did not include our results for school closure in combination with other lockdown measures."

Prof Tamsin Ford, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, University of Cambridge, said: "An important issue raised by this work is the risk of a second surge in infections when schools reopen and how best to respond."

More News in Brief
  • Cancer Research UK wrote an open letter to researchers to explain cuts in funding as its income is expected to drop by up to a quarter in the next financial year due to COVID-19. Its network of charity shops has been closed and big fundraising events, like Race for Life, may not take place. In a statement, the charity's Chief Executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: "We’ve already deferred our spring research grant funding round, and we are making further cuts to our research funding. This is uncomfortable for us, but we must be realistic about what we can deliver given the current circumstances."  Meanwhile, some facilities it funds are repurposing their resources, like the Francis Crick Institute in London which has converted part of its laboratories into a COVID-19 NHS staff testing service.  

  • There was more Royal thanks for healthcare workers on Tuesday. In a statement, The Queen said: "On the occasion of World Health Day, I want to thank all those working in the healthcare profession for your selfless commitment and diligence as you undertake vitally important roles to protect and improve the health and well-being of people across the commonwealth, and around the world. In testing times, we often observe that the best of human spirit comes to the fore; the dedication to service of countless nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers, in these most challenging of circumstances, is an example to us all."

  • The NHS Volunteer Responders started work on Tuesday. Tasks include transporting NHS medical supplies and equipment, delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments and home from the hospital, and making phone calls to check on people self-isolating. 

  • Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is going back to work as a doctor after re-registering as a medical practitioner. He left the register in 2013 when he went into politics. He's expected to work on phone assessments for one shift a week, broadcaster RTE reported.

Adapted from Medscape UK.