UK COVID-19 Daily: workplace safety warning

  • Tim Locke, Medscape.com

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

Workplace Safety Warning

With more people going back to work on Wednesday in England, the safety watchdog says it is ready to take enforcement action against employers who don't make appropriate COVID-19 risk reduction measures.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Chief Executive Sarah Albon told the Downing Street briefing there are a range of different penalties.

"The inspectors can require businesses to do certain things, enforcement notices, requiring them to take particular kinds of action.

"In the most extreme circumstances if there is a risk of serious injury to an individual employee they can issue a notice which prohibits certain activities from taking place.

"Breach of those kind of enforcement notices is essentially a criminal offence and we can prosecute people who fail to do the right thing."

She said: "People have of course been contacting us already because many businesses have been working throughout this period of lockdown. And actually our experience so far is that it's rather more that employers haven't understood the right thing to do, than that they're deliberately trying to do the wrong thing."

However, she added: "There are a small number of cases where we're continuing to pursue that further, and we will certainly take enforcement action if that's required."

Care Home Deaths 

Deaths in care homes (6409) were higher than those in hospitals (6397) in week 18, according to the latest data for England and Wales from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Overall, 37.8% of all deaths in care homes involved COVID-19 that week, an increase on the previous week. However, the total number of care home deaths did represent a 19% decrease on the previous week. 

In the year so far up to 1st May 2020 there were 247,251 deaths from all causes. That's 41,627 more than the 5-year average.

The South East of England overtook London for the highest number of COVID-19 deaths up to 1st May.

Commenting in a statement, Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive at the Health Foundation, said: "Today’s data shows that action to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in social care has been late and inadequate, and has highlighted significant weaknesses in the social care system due to decades of neglect and lack of reform. COVID-19 has ultimately magnified the human impact of decades of underfunding in the sector and policy neglect.”
 
She added: "While today’s figures show that overall deaths from all causes, and COVID-19 deaths, in care homes may be stabilising this should not lead to complacency."

Separate analysis by the PA Media news agency suggests UK COVID-19 deaths have now passed 40,000.

ONS data also suggest that around 136,000 people in England may be currently infected with SARS-CoV-2.

The early estimates suggest that around 0.24% of the population had COVID-19 during the period surveyed between 26th April and 8th May.

Meanwhile, doubts over actual infection rates from SARS-CoV-2 in the community persist, with a new University of Cambridge study suggesting that 3% of staff in one hospital trust in England tested positive, despite not reporting symptoms.

Daily Deaths and Data

Daily reported deaths have risen again after being lower over the bank holiday weekend.

Another 627 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced on Tuesday taking the total to 32,692. The 7-day rolling average is still showing the number of daily deaths is reducing. 

Of the 350 English hospital deaths, patients were aged between 25 and 101. Of these, 22 aged between 30 and 100 had no known underlying health condition.  

Daily COVID-19 tests dropped back below the 100,000 daily target to 85,293. 

Another 3403 positive cases were reported. Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, told the daily Downing Street briefing: "The number of daily confirmed cases is remaining static and that is good news in the context of an increased capacity and increased number of tests, and suggests that we are seeing a stable level, or a reduced level, in proportion of the confirmed cases as respect to testing." 

The total number of tests carried out in the UK has now passed 2 million. 

There were 751 COVID-19 hospital admissions in England on Monday.

Currently, 11,605 people are in UK hospitals with COVID-19 and 22% of UK critical care beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.

NHS Deaths

Among the recently announced NHS deaths were:

Eyitolami Olaolorun, 60, a nurse from the private Wellington Hospital in St John’s Wood, London. Her daughter Oyinkansola Honey Iloba paid tribute via the PA Media news agency: "She didn’t see her patients as just someone she was looking after, they were family."

Rachel Makombe Chikanda, 67, had retired but went back to frontline nursing.

RCN London tweeted: "We are devastated to learn of the deaths of two more members of the nursing family. Our hearts go out to the families of Rachel Makombe Chikanda and Eyitolami Olaolorun. We will remember them, and their dedication to their patients and to nursing will not be forgotten."
  
In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19.

Northern Ireland's 5 Point Lockdown Plan

Northern Ireland has taken a more cautious approach to lifting lockdown measures than England in a phased 5 stage plan published on Tuesday. 

"We will not take a set in stone approach, if there are things we can do better and do differently," First Minister Arlene Foster told the Northern Ireland Assembly. There's no published timetable, she said: "We will not be driven by a timetable and we know that some will be disappointed by that. 

"Many will want answers immediately around specific scenarios that impact them most directly, but our roadmap won't answer every query. It provides an indication which people can use and looking ahead in anticipating how the next weeks and months might evolve."

R in Northern Ireland is currently approximately 0.8, the document Coronavirus: Executive Approach to Decision-Making said.

Northern Ireland is sticking with 'Stay Home, Save Lives' rather than England's new 'stay alert' slogan.

The document concedes there's a significant non-COVID-19 health impact: "Elective and diagnostic services have had to be curtailed. At the end of December 2019, there were some 305,000 patients on the outpatient waiting list, more than 90,000 waiting for inpatient and day case admissions and more than 141,000 patients waiting for diagnostic tests. As of 22nd April 2020, more than 9000 elective care and inpatient admissions had been cancelled, of which more than 2000 were red flag referrals."

Meanwhile, Wales' CMO clarified advice on face coverings. Dr Frank Atherton said in a statement: "As Chief Medical Officer for Wales, I am not recommending everyone wears a non-clinical face covering in Wales – I am not recommending they are compulsory. However, I support the public’s right to choose whether to wear them." He cited "marginal" benefits, concerns over medical mask supplies, and a possible increase in risky behaviours.

More News in Brief

  • The Department for Transport issued new COVID-19 guidance for essential use of public transport. Measures include keeping 2 metres apart from others if possible, and wearing face coverings. If social distancing isn't possible, passengers are advised to try to face away from other people. When using taxis or minicabs, drivers may ask single passengers to sit in the back left-hand seat.

  • Social media influencers could be key to encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines, UK researchers write in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Jack Andrews, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said in a news release: "Adolescence...is when you want to be making more social connections, not losing them. It’s also a time of increased risk-taking and sensitivity to peer influence. For some adolescents, it’s a challenge to stick to social distancing rules, particularly if their friends aren’t following the rules." Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, added: "Influencers could post videos or photos online, for example, showing how they are following social distancing rules by staying at home, and add tags to increase their visibility through sharing and Likes. Many YouTubers are already doing this. It’s really just presenting public health advice in a more accessible way that adolescents are more likely to listen to."

  • Tuesday was International Nurses Day and the high profile of the UK's COVID-19 response resulted in a big jump in people thinking of joining the profession. The NHS Health Careers website has seen a 220% rise in people expressing an interest in nursing. NHS England's Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens says a change to the current January and September university intake with a spring recruitment drive could boost nursing numbers. Nurses in the UK and abroad have also received messages of thanks from the Royal Family.

Adapted from Medscape UK.