UK COVID-19 Update: testing shortages 'threaten NHS recovery'

  • Tim Locke,

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

Testing Shortages 'Threaten NHS Recovery'

NHS Providers warned that COVID-19 testing shortages are beginning to impact NHS service recovery in England and leading to avoidable staff absence.

The group's Chief Executive Chris Hopson commented: "It’s clear that there are current capacity problems with the testing regime. Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds, and London have all raised concerns over the weekend about the lack of testing availability leading to greater levels of staff absence. It’s not just access for tests for staff members themselves, it’s also access for their family members as NHS workers have to self-isolate if their family members are unable to confirm if they have COVID-19 or not.

"The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests. They need to know all this information so that they can plan accordingly. For example, trusts need to know if they should try to create or re-establish their own testing facilities as quickly as possible."

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock again blamed the test shortage on people ineligible for testing causing a sharp rise in demand. He also said there were operational challenges which the Government was working hard to resolve.

Mr Hancock set out current testing priorities: "The top priority is, and always has been, acute clinical care.

"The next priority is social care, where we're now sending over 100,000 tests a day because we have all seen the risks this virus poses in care homes.”

He didn't rule out steps to ensure tests are used according to those priorities.

First COVID-19 Death Revised to January

The UK's first COVID-19 death was thought to have been on March 2. However, the death of a man aged 80-84 who died in the week ending 31 January was recently registered. However, the details of the registration are being reviewed.

In Week 36, ending 4 September, the number of deaths registered in England and Wales was 15.7% below the 5-year average, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data. This week included a bank holiday which could have affected data and reporting.

Seventy-eight deaths involved COVID-19, accounting for 1% of England's total deaths, the lowest in 25 weeks.

Deaths in hospitals, care homes, and other locations were below the 5-year average but deaths in private homes were above the 5-year average.

Action on Long COVID

Thirty-nine GPs and specialists have written to the BMJ calling for action on long COVID.

Among the measures suggested are one-stop-shop rehabilitation clinics.

"As politicians, scientists, and doctors attempt to tackle this issue, these principles can act as a guide enabling the experiences of those with the condition to inform the efforts of experts and lead to improved research and clinical care, benefiting those affected and society as a whole," they wrote.

Testing Data Breach

Public Health Wales apologised after a data breach saw details of thousands of people who'd tested positive for COVID-19 appearing online for a period of time on 30 August due to human error.

It said the risk was low for 16,179 people but higher for 1926 in care homes and similar settings. The Information Commissioner has been informed.

Tracey Cooper, chief executive of Public Health Wales, said: "We take our obligations to protect people’s data extremely seriously and I am sorry that on this occasion we failed. I would like to reassure the public that we have in place very clear processes and policies on data protection. We have commenced a swift and thorough external investigation into how this specific incident occurred and the lessons to be learned. I would like to reassure our public that we have taken immediate steps to strengthen our procedures and sincerely apologise again for any anxiety this may cause people."

Advisers' Lockdown Disagreement

A BBC Freedom of Information request unearthed a major disagreement between Government advisers over when to start the lockdown.

An email showed Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance got a "telling off" from Chief Medical Adviser Prof Chris Whitty for arguing strongly in favour of earlier lockdown restrictions in March.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the policy was "guided by the advice of world-renowned scientists".

High-Risk Drinking Rose Under Lockdown

High-risk alcohol users rose from 4.8 million in February to 8.4 million after lockdown, according to Royal College of Psychiatrist's analysis of Public Health England data.

College President Dr Adrian James commented: "Addiction services have been starved of funding in recent years meaning many are not able to treat and care for the huge numbers of people who are drinking at high risk.

"More lives will be needlessly lost to addiction unless the Government acts now and commits to substantial investment in public health, including adult addiction services, in the Spending Review."

Posthumous RCP Fellowship

The Royal College of Physicians has awarded its first-ever posthumous fellowship.

Dr Peter Tun was an associate specialist in neurological rehabilitation at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust who died in April after contracting COVID-19.

He'd moved to the UK from Myanmar to work in the NHS and later served on the RCP's staff and associate specialist (SAS) steering group.

"Fellows are nominated by their peers and fellows in recognition of their achievements and skills as doctors, and for their lasting contribution to the profession. As an RCP fellow, Dr Tun is recognised and remembered among some of the most inspiring and innovative physicians in the world," RCP said in a statement.

His family has been invited to accept the fellowship once COVID-19 restrictions allow.

Dr Tun's son Michael tweeted: "Thank you for this recognition @RCPLondon. This means a lot to us. My dad loved his job, his colleagues, and he used to tell us that he believed in treating his patients like they were family."

Nicky Lloyd, acting chief executive officer of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, commented: "It is so well deserved that he has been made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and that his superb dedication, expertise and knowledge has been honoured by his peers."

Today the BMA and BMJ launched a memorial page dedicated to the 34 doctors known to have died during the pandemic.

BMJ Editor-in-chief, Fiona Godlee, commented: "Each name represents an irreplaceable gap in a family and a workplace. No one should have to risk their lives or health because of their work, and we honour those who have paid this ultimate sacrifice. In doing so we commit to all efforts that will bring this pandemic to an end and that will ensure the safety and well being of everyone working on the front line of healthcare."

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

Grouse Shooting

Huffington Post had an exclusive report on one of the activities exempt from England's 'rule of six' - grouse, and other group shooting activities.

It said a meeting to discuss the exemption was cancelled at short notice.

Adapted from Medscape UK.