UK COVID-19 Daily: 'World Beating' Tracing by June

Tim Locke

May 20, 2020

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

'World Beating' Tracing by June

Boris Johnson told the Commons today that a "world beating" operation with 25,000 staff capable of tracing 10,000 new COVID-19 cases a day in England would be in place by 1st June in time for the planned partial opening of schools.

However, Downing Street later confirmed the NHSX tracking smartphone app which is being trailed on the Isle of Wight won't be ready by then.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care's latest rebuttal of critical media coverage is aimed at the Guardian's article on problems with contact tracer training.

It included claims of "training beset with technical difficulties", and being "shambolic".

DHSC said in a blog post: "Contact tracers have been trained ahead of contact tracing being rolled out so they are not yet working with the public – therefore it is not the case that any of them have been expected to start work without appropriate training for the role."

Was the PM Blaming Doctors Over Care Home Discharges?

Boris Johnson was tackled on claims by his Health Secretary that "a protective ring" was thrown around care homes in England "right from the start".

At Prime Minister's Questions, Labour's Sir Keir Stamer said: "Government advice from 2nd to the 15th of April, was that and I quote, 'negative tests are not required prior to transfers or admissions into care homes'. What's protective about that?"

Rather than discussing the guidelines, Mr Johnson said: "No one was discharged into a care home this year without the express authorisation of a clinician."

At the Downing Street briefing, Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, was asked if the PM was passing the blame to doctors: "I'm absolutely sure that my medical colleagues would not be discharging patients under any circumstances unless they were sure that their medical treatment in hospital was complete, they were fit for discharge, and it was safe to discharge them," he said.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was asked if the issue of care homes had been glossed over. "It is categorically not the case that we have glossed over this."

He added: "In any public health crisis like this there'll be a time for lessons to be learned afterwards."

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 363 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced today taking the total to 35,704.

Of the 166 deaths in English hospitals, patients were aged between 33 and 99. Five patients aged between 54 and 70 had no known underlying health condition. 

There were 177,216 tests yesterday. This figure includes home tests that have been sent out but not yet processed. The current target is 200,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

Another 2472 positive cases were reported today, and 9953 people are currently in the hospital with coronavirus, down 13% from this time last week.

There were 637 COVID-19 hospital admissions in England yesterday, and 14% of UK critical care beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.

NHS Deaths

Oliver Dowden was asked why the families of overseas carers, porters, and cleaners, who die with COVID-19 don't have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, unlike doctors and nurses. "We do keep that policy under review, and we will look further into that case." he said.

Boris Johnson told the Commons there have now been 181 NHS and 131 care workers deaths.

Among the recently announced NHS deaths were:

Dr Abdel Wahab Babiker, 70, a consultant physician at Scarborough Hospital.

The hospital's Director of acute, emergency and elderly medicine, Dr Ed Smith, paid tribute: "Dr Babiker was an extremely energetic, hard-working, approachable, and dedicated doctor."

Dr Mohinder Singh Dhatt, 80, from Kumar Medical Centre in Slough. The local MP Tan Dhesi tweeted: "Dr Mohinder Singh Dhatt was a highly respected person within the Slough community and did a lot for the local community. My sincere condolences to his family. May he RIP."

Liz Spooner, 62, was a nurse at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, described as "caring and dedicated" by the hospital. Its Director Jan Worthing paid tribute: "Liz has always given her all, delivering an excellent standard of care. She was well known throughout Singleton as a fantastic, caring colleague with a dry sense of humour."

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

BMA Updates Schools Opening Position

The BMA has given more details of its position on when schools should reopen in England.

Dr Peter English, chair, public health medicine committee, said in a statement: "A focus on arbitrary dates for schools to reopen fully is polarising. The BMA wants schools to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so and the evidence allows – this could be before June 1st or after. A zero-risk approach is not possible. This is about ‘safe’ being an acceptable level of risk."

He said it is "clear that the available evidence is conflicting, and we need to know more on the infectivity of children. This is changing daily."

He said signs from Europe are promising, however, "just a week after one-third of French schoolchildren went back to school in an easing of the coronavirus lockdown, there was a flurry of about 70 COVID-19 cases linked to schools."

He conceded: "The Government’s decision on whether to reopen schools is a finely balanced and unenviable one."

More News in Brief

  • Boris Johnson has rejected calls from medical groups to waive NHS charges for overseas health and care workers. He told the Commons: "I do accept and I do understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff... I've been the personal beneficiary of carers who've come from abroad and frankly saved my life." However, he said: "On the other hand, we must look at the realities. This is a great national service. It's a national institution. It needs funding, and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900m, and it's very very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources," adding, "I do think that that is the right way forward."

  • NHS England is offering more help to people with diabetes after its preprint research found a third of COVID-19 deaths were associated with diabetes. Patients with type 1 diabetes have a 3.5 times greater mortality risk while those with type 2 diabetes have double the risk compared to those without diabetes. National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, Professor Jonathan Valabhji, was also lead author of the study. "Importantly, it also shows that higher blood glucose levels and obesity further increase the risk in both types of diabetes," he said in a statement.

  • A survey of 580 breast cancer patients by the charity Breast Cancer Now has found widespread concerns about treatment delays and pauses due to COVID-19. It found of 190 respondents living with incurable secondary breast cancer 24% had experienced delays or cancellations to treatment with a further 10% having monitoring scans delayed or cancelled. In a statement, Professor Mark Beresford, consultant oncologist and co-chair of the UK Breast Cancer Group, said: "For those undergoing cancer treatment, it is now more important than ever to carefully consider the balance between benefit and risk, including taking into account any extra hospital visits and the potential of more severe complications from coronavirus infections."

  • A rolling 50/30 day cycle of lockdown and relaxation could be a useful future option for managing COVID-19, modelling from an international group of scientists suggests today in the European Journal of Epidemiology . Lead author Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, University of Cambridge epidemiologist, said in a news release: "This intermittent combination of strict social distancing, and a relatively relaxed period, with efficient testing, case isolation, contact tracing and shielding the vulnerable, may allow populations and their national economies to ‘breathe’ at intervals – a potential that might make this solution more sustainable, especially in resource-poor regions."

  • The BMA is calling for better mental health support for doctors after a member survey found 45% of doctors in England reporting work-related anxiety, burnout, and depression. A third of those said this has worsened during the pandemic. BMA Council Deputy Chair Dr David Wrigley, said in a statement: "It is unacceptable that almost half of all frontline workers are carrying this burden. What is also disturbing is that 1 in 5 doctors feel they do not have access to the help that they need."

  • Superdrug and Babylon Health have launched home COVID-19 antibody test kits costing £69. Finger prick blood samples are taken at home and sent off for analysis. Prof Powis was asked if people should buy the tests or wait for NHS testing. "I would caution against using any tests that might be made available without knowing quite how good those tests are," he said.

  • The University of Cambridge has cancelled face-to-face lectures for the next academic year. In a statement it said: "Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements."  Universities can still charge full course fees if courses are moved online.

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

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