UK COVID-19 Daily: 19 Healthcare Deaths, PPE Row

Tim Locke

April 11, 2020

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Healthcare Deaths, PPE Row

Matt Hancock's Downing Street briefing yesterday caused controversy over the deaths of healthcare workers and his comments on PPE.

He answered one question today in broadcast interviews that he avoided yesterday: How many health workers have died from COVID-19? Nineteen, he said.

Yesterday in the Downing Street briefing, responding to the same question, he said: "This one is for you Ruth." As we reported yesterday, Ruth May, England's chief nursing officer then said: "It would be inappropriate for me right now to go into listing them and numbering them."

That brought criticism from Tony Blair's former director of communications Alastair Campbell.

"The health secretary was asked how many people working for the organisation he heads died and he couldn’t/wouldn’t answer. That was awful," he tweeted.

Matt Hancock told Sky News his "heart goes out" to the families of healthcare workers who have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

He also called it "heart-rending" that a high proportion of those who died were people who came to the UK to work in the NHS.

This afternoon Professor Michael Rees, co-chair Committee of Medical Managers, BMA Council, tweeted: "BMA sources indicate 28 NHS staff have died from Coronavirus not 19."

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

'Precious' PPE

Yesterday Mr Hancock also described PPE as a "precious resource" urging health workers to only use what they needed. "Everyone should use the equipment they clinically need in line with the guidelines, no more, and no less."

The Royal College of Nursing's General Secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, responded on BBC Radio 4 that no PPE was "more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life".

Later she added on BBC TV: "I take offence actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE. I think what we know is, we don’t have enough supply and not enough regular supply of PPE."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: "It is quite frankly insulting to imply frontline staff are wasting PPE." 

Mr Hancock said he didn't mean to imply anyone was wasting PPE.

NHS Providers Chief Executive Chris Hopson said there are "critically low levels of stock of clinical gowns in some trusts”. He said neighbouring trusts are helping each other out with supplies, "But, on gowns, these are, literally, last minute actions to prevent stock running out and we need to rapidly move to a more sustainable, rather than hand-to-mouth, position."

Matt Hancock also said today that he was unaware of any link between healthcare workers' deaths and a lack of PPE but promised an investigation into staff contracting the virus on the NHS front line.

PPE: 'Sorry if People Feel That There Have Been Failings' 

Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England told today's Downing Street briefing: "I do have confidence that we have supplies of FFP3 masks that are required, and on gowns we're working very hard.

"We extended the use of gowns in the guidance last week so we knew there would be some short-term challenges to the supply chain but we are working very hard, including with the Health and Safety Executive, to ensure that we can use the widest range of gowns possible to ensure that supply is there."

Home Secretary Priti Patel led the briefing for the first time today and was asked if the Government could commit to a date when all frontline NHS staff would have the PPE supplies they need, which she was unable to give.

She was also asked if she would apologise for failings to supply appropriate PPE in all cases, which she declined to do. She did say: "I'm sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I'll be very, very clear about that. But at the same time we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now. It is inevitable that the demand and the pressures on PPE, and the demand for PPE, are going to be exponential, they're going to be incredibly high." 


Deaths and Cases

There were 917 more COVID-19 hospital deaths reported today in UK hospitals taking the total to 9875. The youngest person to die was 11.

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, commented via the Science Media Centre: "The fact that an 11-year-old was amongst the victims is particularly distressing. Only 2 weeks ago we saw the UK pass the threshold of 1000 total deaths and we can expect that number to breach 10,000 tomorrow.  It has become increasingly clear that younger people and those without underlying health conditions are at greater risk than had initially been expected."

There are currently 20,101 patients in UK hospitals with COVID-19. 

Prof Powis said: "There has been a levelling off of the number of new cases, it does vary from day-to-day, but by-and-large, this is the sort of effect that we would expect to see from everybody following those [social distancing] instructions." 

Priti Patel gave an update on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's condition. He "continues to make good progress" in London's St Thomas' Hospital where he is recovering from coronavirus, she said.

More News in Brief

  • A COVID-19 vaccine could be ready by September, one expert said today. Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, told The Times she was "80% confident" a vaccine her team was developing would work. Dr Colin Butter, associate professor at the University of Lincoln, commented: "Vaccinology is a complicated science where good fortune also plays a part: whilst a successful outcome is predicted it is not absolutely guaranteed."

  • Under the lockdown, the National Domestic Abuse helpline reported a 120% increase in calls, Priti Patel said. "I'm launching a new national communications campaign to reach out to those who are at risk from abuse, highlighting that they can still leave home to get the support that you need," she said. "Do not think that this is a time where you can get away with this," abusers were told by the Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Martin Hewitt. Four hundred domestic abuse suspects were arrested in 2 weeks in the West Midlands, he said.

  • Former Liverpool player and manager, Sir Kenny Dalglish, has tested positive for COVID-19. The 69-year-old was admitted to hospital for an infection needing IV antibiotics and was given a routine test. Liverpool FC said: "Unexpectedly, the test result was positive but he remains asymptomatic." 

  • The Welsh Government is asking people to download and use a COVID-19 tracker app whether they have symptoms or not. The tracker has been developed by the company ZOE and King’s College London. Lead researcher Professor Tim Spector from King’s College said: “Accurate real-time data is essential if we are to beat this disease. Without accurate and wide spread testing it’s essential that we have as much data as possible to help us predict where we are going to see the next spikes in demand so that resources can be effectively deployed ahead of time to meet the needs of the patients."

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.


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