UK COVID-19 Update: Care Blame, 'Long COVID', Mental Health Crisis 

Tim Locke

July 07, 2020

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

PM Criticised Over Care Homes' Blame

"We discovered too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have," the Prime Minister said yesterday when asked about the reasons for high numbers of care home deaths in England.

"There were no procedures, so hard to fathom how they weren't followed," Care England responded on Twitter.

Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, told Sky News: "I'm absolutely stunned the prime minister thought it was appropriate for him to make that comment and I think he should retract that comment and apologise."

Downing Street today tried to clarify the PM's statement saying he was pointing out that no one knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time, and that Mr Johnson actually believes care home staff "have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances".

Doctors' Association UK commented: "The Prime Minister's comments on care homes show that the government is already trying to change the narrative. This is why we called for an independent public inquiry now."

RCGP Warns of 'Influx' of 'Long COVID' Cases

A report from the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) predicts a "lingering and difficult legacy" after COVID-19, including an "influx" of "long COVID" cases in patients who have recovered but continue to experience respiratory difficulties, cognitive impairment, and chronic fatigue.

RCGP says general practice will need additional funding, solutions for workforce capacity, further reductions in red tape, systems to identify patients likely to need primary care support, and action on health inequalities.

RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall said: "The pressures in general practice prior to the pandemic have been well documented by the College but we are now gearing up for the wave of new pressures coming our way as a direct result of COVID-19. There will be a significant influx of patients with lingering ‘long COVID’ illness, both physical and emotional, and GPs must have the necessary resources and support to care for patients and help them come to terms with and readjust to the aftermath."

Post-COVID Mental Health Crisis Warning

The BMA is warning of a post-COVID-19 mental health crisis unless urgent action is taken to bolster services.

In a report it warns mental health was under-resourced before the pandemic, and is now facing a backlog of cases, plus new cases from people affected by lockdown, leading to what the Royal College of Psychiatrists has called a "tsunami of mental illness".

"Our mental health services were already on the backfoot – under-resourced and under-funded, which makes the prospect of coping with the potential avalanche in demand extremely concerning," BMA Mental Health Policy Lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said in a news release.

"Rather than hurtling toward a post-COVID mental health crisis, this pandemic must be used as an opportunity to evaluate the current provision of mental health services. This means once and for all giving mental health services the long-overdue parity they have desperately needed to ensure we move forward for the better," he added.

Royal Society Urges Wider Face Covering Use

People shouldn't leave home without a face covering ready to use, according to the President of the Royal Society, Professor Venki Ramakrishnan.

Currently UK face covering use is only compulsory on public transport and when visiting hospitals in England, and guidance varies in other parts of the UK.

"The UK is way behind many countries in terms of wearing masks and clear policies and guidelines about mask wearing for the public. The public have taken to handwashing and distancing but remain sceptical about face coverings," Prof Ramakrishnan said. 

"You only need to go on public transport, where they are supposed to be mandatory, to see how many people are ignoring this new rule based on the growing body of evidence that wearing a mask will help protect others – and might even protect you."

He continued: "It used to be quite normal to have quite a few drinks and drive home, and it also used to be normal to drive without seatbelts. Today both of those would be considered antisocial, and not wearing face coverings in public should be regarded in the same way."

The Royal Society has published two reports on face coverings.

The first adds to growing evidence on reducing the risk of transmission and providing protection to the wearer.

The second looks at the effectiveness of different face mask types and face coverings, plus behavioural factors.

Pub Closures

Three pubs in England which opened at the weekend have been closed again after customers tested positive for COVID-19:

  • The Fox and Hounds, Batley, West Yorkshire

  • The Lighthouse, Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset

  • The Village Home, Alverstoke, Gosport, Hampshire

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons: "They have all closed for a deep clean and staff testing after in each case a customer had tested positive. They are doing the right thing by their customers, and by their communities. This is NHS Test and Trace working precisely as intended: three pubs shut so others can be open."

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 155 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced today, taking the total to 44,391.

There were 94,284 tests processed yesterday.

Another 581 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 286,349.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly data show the number of deaths registered in the UK in the week ending 26th June 2020 (week 26) was 10,267. That was fewer than the 5-year average for the second week running, this week by 295 deaths. Of the deaths registered in the UK in week 26, 651 deaths involved COVID-19.

In a blog post, ONS Head of Mortality Analysis Sarah Caul, commented: "Starting the year with a lower than average number of deaths could possibly have contributed to the increase in deaths seen during the coronavirus. For example, those most vulnerable who possibly would have died earlier in the year if the winter weather or circulating influenza had been more severe, could have then died during the coronavirus pandemic.

"This means we may not see as big an impact as we would usually see during  similar situations, such as during the heatwaves last year where large increases in deaths occurred on the hottest day, but this was followed by a period of decreased mortality."

ONS data on community infections in England also published today found that among people who tested positive in its continuing study, only 33% reported any evidence of symptoms around the time of their positive swab test.

One significant new positive case on the international stage is Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. He'd previously dismissed COVID-19 as a "little flu". His country has the second highest COVID-19 death toll after the USA, and ahead of the UK.

NHS Surcharge: Any NHS Staff Still Paying?

The Home Office doesn't know how many overseas NHS or care staff are still paying the NHS surcharge after it was scrapped in May, or how many have been refunded.

In response to a question from Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders, Borders Minister Kevin Foster gave a written answer: "This information is not readily available nor held centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost due to the fact the IHS [immigration health surcharge] is payable across multiple application routes."

Social Media Users 'Less Likely to Have COVID-19 Jab'

People in the UK who mostly get their news from social media are less likely to say they'll have a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available than those who use traditional media sources, according to a survey.

YouGov polled 2861 US and UK adults for the Center for Countering Digital Hate. (CCDH)

Amongst those who use social media more than traditional media to access news and updates about coronavirus, 63% in the UK and 56% in the US say they will definitely or probably be vaccinated. That compares with 72% in the UK and 66% in the US using traditional media sources.

CCDH criticised social media companies' "feeble measures" to tackle misinformation, and: "The decision to continue hosting known misinformation content and actors left online anti-vaxxers ready to pounce on the opportunity presented by coronavirus."

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

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