UK COVID-19 Update: Better Local Data Needed, BMA Says

Tim Locke

July 01, 2020

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

BMA: Better Local Data Needed

The BMA says the Government needs to be more open and transparent with local COVID-19 data. The call came after criticism of the lack of timely local data in Leicester ahead of its lockdown.

In its latest member tracker survey the BMA found more than 60% of doctors had little to no confidence in their local health system’s ability to manage patient demand as NHS services start to resume, and half said they could not handle a second spike in COVID-19 cases.

BMA Council Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul commented: "The Prime Minister has talked about a 'whack-a-mole' strategy to tackle local outbreaks, but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground – be they public health teams or local leaders – are not given the most accurate up-to-date data possible. This is crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives and the health service,  something that is not happening right now."

Labour said there'd been a "lost week" before health officials in Leicester got the data they needed ahead of its local lockdown.

However, at Prime Minister's questions Boris Johnson said data from Pillar 1 (swab testing in Public Health England labs and NHS hospitals for those with a clinical need, and health and care workers), and Pillar 2 data (swab testing for the wider population, as set out in Government guidance) was provided.

A data sharing agreement has also been agreed with local authorities.

Reports say there are 36 'at-risk' areas in England that could be facing similar restrictions to those seen in Leicester. These include Brent and Harrow in the London area, which have significant BAME communities, but also the Isle of Wight where England's contact tracing app trial has just ended.

The Midlands, including Leicester, has the highest R number estimate among English regions from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at 0.89 (0.7-1.1). The South East is lowest at 0.76 (0.55-0.97).

Who Bought All the Remdesivir?

The US has done a deal with the drug company Gilead to secure most of the world's stock of remdesivir  until the end of September for COVID-19. The HIV drug has been found to help shorten COVID-19 recovery times but is still considered an experimental medication in the UK.

The Department of Health and Social Care is said to have sufficient stocks for now.

The patent for remdesivir prohibits generics being sourced from other countries. However, legal experts say the UK could use a rare mechanism called Crown Use Exemption to get round this.

Dr Ohid Yaqub, senior lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, commented via the Science Media Centre: "The buying-up of remdesivir is disappointing news, not necessarily because of the shortages it implies for other countries, but because it so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries, and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual property rights."

Dr Yaqub continued: "The shortage issue may be addressed by governments around the world invoking compulsory licensing. This is a mechanism under TRIPS Article 31 [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights], where governments can decide that the circumstances are so urgent, say a public health emergency such as this one, that they will not respect a patent holder's rights to monopoly. So the governments of those countries will allow their manufacturers to go ahead with producing generic versions of the patented drugs. They may even allow them to be exported around the world, in direct competition to the brand name drugs produced by the patent holder.

"Undermining the monopoly rights like this presents a challenge for the multilateral view on the need to offer some degree of intellectual property protection in order to provide R&D (research and development) incentives. It will be of concern not just to expert policy makers, but also other companies too, who will not want to see TRIPs being undermined."

T Cell Trial in Edinburgh 

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is to host clinical trials of T cell treatment for COVID-19 working with the Glasgow-based biotechnology company TC BioPharm.

Chief Investigator, Dr Nik Hirani, University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said in a company news release: "Harnessing the immune system to effectively and safely kill virus-infected cells is an extremely attractive strategy. GDTs (gamma-delta T cells) are a potent component of the normal host defence system and seem to be deficient in patients with COVID. For a clinician that sees the consequences of COVID lung injury for patients, the opportunity to test the idea that donor GDTs can be safely infused into infected patients is very exciting."

Faulty '11-Year-Old' Masks Recalled

Sky News reported on faulty batches of 2009 era pandemic stockpile masks sent to GPs and care homes being recalled. Faults with straps and nose protection were reported.

It quotes a recall notice issued by the Department of Health and Social Care on 26th June saying use of the Cardinal Healthcare IIR masks should be stopped immediately and the equipment destroyed because of a risk to staff if the masks degrade.

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 176 UK COVID-19 daily deaths were announced today, taking the total to 43,906.

There were 226,398 tests counted yesterday. This figure includes home tests that have been sent out but not yet processed. Figures for the number of people tested were last given on Friday 22nd May.

Another 829 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 313,483.

Virtual COVID-19 Ward Opens

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has opened a virtual ward for discharged COVID-19 patients to continue their recovery at home.

Pulse oximeter readings are taken at home and shared with medical staff during regular phone calls. The equipment was donated by the COVID Crisis Rescue Foundation. A similar scheme was already in use in Watford.

Dr Ramamurthy Sathyamurthy, consultant in respiratory medicine at South Tees, said in a news release: "This is an innovative scheme with a number of benefits. It enables clinicians to discharge patients home early, allowing the patient to be at home with the confidence that they are being monitored remotely and supported by the respiratory nursing team. And often, allowing the patient to be at home and out of the hospital environment will improve their mental wellbeing."

Health Bodies Back at Work

New drug funding decisions for the NHS in Scotland have been on hold during the pandemic. 

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) said the New Drugs Committee and Patient and Clinician Engagement  (PACE) meetings will resume this month, and the SMC will meet in August.

Also restarting work today and accepting new complaints is the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Director of Policy and Strategy at NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin, commented: "Further clarity on the Government’s plans for an inquiry into overall response to the pandemic would also be welcome. The NHS is already learning from its experiences and there is much to reflect on in terms of the Government’s strategy and response."

Fitness Apps' Lockdown Downloads Boost

The NHS England backed 'Couch to 5k’ app had a 92% rise in downloads under lockdown.

From March until the end of June, there were 858,000 downloads compared to 448,000 during the same time last year.

In May, the phone network EE reported doubling of MapMyRun usage, and three times as many people using Strava.

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


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