UK COVID-19 Update: Dexamethasone Praise & Scepticism 

Tim Locke

June 17, 2020

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

Dexamethasone Praise & Scepticism 

World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has welcomed the positive, but so far unpublished or peer reviewed, outcomes of Oxford's RECOVERY trial on dexamethasone. "This is great news and I congratulate the Government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough," he said in a news release.

However, there's been some scepticism, including from US doctors.

"We have been burned before, not just during the coronavirus pandemic but even pre-COVID, with exciting results that when we have access to the data are not as convincing," Dr Kathryn Hibbert, director of the medical intensive care unit at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital, told Reuters.

Dr Thomas McGinn, deputy physician-in-chief at Northwell Health in New York, added: "We have to see what the study looks like given the current environment of retractions.

"I just wait to see the real data, see if it's peer reviewed and gets published in a real journal."

However, a letter from the UK's chief medical officers explained why dexamethasone should be used on seriously ill hospitalised COVID-19 patients with immediate effect. "Normally we would advise waiting for the full paper before changing practice, to ensure final analysis and peer review do not lead to different conclusions.

"However, given this clear mortality advantage, with good significance, and with a well known medicine which is safe under these circumstances we consider it is reasonable for practice to change in advance of the final paper," the CMOs write.

Paediatricians' Schools Plea 

An open letter has been sent to the Prime Minister by 1500 paediatricians calling for the reopening of schools to be made a priority.

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "The response to this letter in such a short time shows the very real concern paediatricians have for the mental and physical health of children who have now missed many months of education and the broader benefits schools bring."

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the Downing Street briefing: "It's vitally important that we get children back to school."

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 184 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced today, taking the total to 42,153.

There were 140,359 tests counted yesterday. This figure includes home tests that have been sent out but not yet processed. This takes the total tests to 7,121,976.

Figures for the number of people tested were last given on Friday 22nd May.

Another 1115 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to     299,251.    

There were 387 people admitted to hospital in the UK (excluding Scotland), and 379 mechanical ventilator beds are in use by coronavirus patients.

There are 5308 people in hospital with COVID-19, down from 6123 a week ago.

More News in Brief

  • UK contact tracing and isolating cases are vital to COVID-19 epidemic control, according to modelling published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases. Study author Dr Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said in a nes release: "The huge scale of testing and contact tracing that is needed to reduce COVID-19 from spreading is resource intensive, and new app-based tracing, if adopted widely alongside traditional contact tracing, could enhance the effectiveness of identifying contacts, particularly those that would otherwise be missed."

  • The Guardian reports that ministers have asked for an urgent review of whether vitamin D can help reduce coronavirus risk. Work is being done by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), it said.

  • At Prime Minister's Questions Boris Johnson wasn't able to give a date for lifting the health surcharge for NHS workers from overseas nearly a month after the change was announced. "We are getting on with instituting the new arrangements as fast as we possibly can," he said, adding that payments since May 21st would be refunded.

  • Care England has welcomed new PPE guidance for care homes in England "albeit late in the day". Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, commented: "This updated guidance represents a great victory for the sector as it includes much needed bespoke advice for learning disability and/or autism care providers. It has been a long time coming, but is of course welcome."

  • Heart shaped NHS logos will be on players' shirts as the Premier League kicks off again this evening after a 100 day break. PlayersTogether is working to raise money with NHS Charities Together. Support for Black Lives Matter is also on shirts. A minute's silence is being observed before the first matches in honour of those who've died with COVID-19. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "Today's return of live football represents a significant milestone. But I hope it's just another step towards normality to be followed by many more in the months to come."

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


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