UK COVID-19 Update: App Launches, Hospital Apology

Tim Locke

September 11, 2020

Editor's note, 11 September 2020: This article was updated to include daily case data.

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

App Launches

England and Wales will launch a joint contact tracing app on 24 September.

The Protect Scotland COVID-19 tracking app launched yesterday copying Northern Ireland's StopCOVID app in using Apple/Google protocols.

Anyone testing positive in Scotland will be given a special code to enter in the app, then people they've been close to will be alerted.

Cian Ó Maidín, CEO of developer, NearForm said: "This open source technology was built with privacy and data protection at its core and, through anonymous keys, allows Scottish citizens to engage, protect each other, and break transmission chains."

England was first in the UK to trial an app using a centralised bespoke system, which was later scrapped. The new version using the same protocols has been undergoing user testing.

Wales had been using the King’s College London/ZOE app where people self-report symptoms.

The launch of the app will be "a defining moment", England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, adding: "We need to use every tool at our disposal to control the spread of the virus including cutting-edge technology.”

QR codes will be displayed at hospitality venues which users can scan in the app to register they've been there in case of later outbreaks.

Hospital's COVID-19 Outbreak Apology

Weston General Hospital in Somerset has apologised over the deaths of patients in a COVID-19 outbreak in May which led to it closing its A&E and not admitting new patients until June.

Medical Director Dr William Oldfield said in a statement: "As part of our investigation we have reviewed the clinical notes of everyone who was an inpatient at Weston General Hospital between 5-24 May who had either tested positive or became positive for COVID-19.

"During the investigation we identified 31 patients who have sadly passed away having contracted coronavirus infection whilst they were an inpatient in the hospital. A detailed review into each of these individuals was undertaken. To our profound regret, in 18 of these patients the infection may have contributed to their death. We are deeply sorry for this."

Dr Oldfield said the Trust's investigation and independent PHE analysis had not identified a single cause for the outbreak. "There are a number of factors which may have contributed, these include; the size and layout of the hospital, the number and configuration of beds, relatively small team sizes and the need to move staff between wards to provide safe staffing levels, and the presence of both staff and patients who were asymptomatic but tested positive for COVID-19.

“A number of the recommendations from our investigation had already been completed as part of planning for the safe re-opening of Weston General Hospital in June 2020; appropriate zoning in line with national guidance; we have reduced the number of beds in the hospital to improve social distancing between patients; and we have made significant efforts to minimise staff movements across the hospital, while following the national guidance on the appropriate segregation of symptomatic and asymptomatic patients."

R Rises

The UK's R number range has risen to 1.0-1.2 and the growth rate is -1% to +3%.

England's R number is 1.0-1.2 but is higher in London and the North West.

Daily UK cases rose further to 3539 today compared with 2919 yesterday.

Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England commented: "Most of these cases are people tested in the community.

“Although younger people continue to make up the greatest share of new cases, we’re now starting to see worrying signs of infections occurring in the elderly, who are at far higher risk of getting seriously ill."

ONS Data

Office for National Statistics Infection Survey data to 5 September estimate 0.58 new COVID-19 infections for every 10,000 people per day in the community population in England. That equates to around 3200 new cases a day.

In line with rising reported daily cases, ONS says there has been a marked increase in rates of positive testing and incidence rates.

Katherine Kent from ONS said in a statement: "Our results this week suggest that there has been an increase in COVID-19 infections in England during recent weeks with higher infection rates among 17-34 year olds."

NHS Performance

The latest NHS performance figures for England "reveal the devastating extent of patient suffering across the country as people wait longer than ever before for treatment during COVID-19," BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said.

  • Average waits for treatment by a hospital consultant rose to 19.6 weeks in July.

  • The number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment at the end of July was 83,000, the highest number since October 2008.

  • In A&E in August, 12,000 more patients were waiting more than 4 hours on a trolley bed compared to the previous month.

  • The proportion of cancer patients receiving their first cancer treatment 2 months after a national screening service appointment remained low at just 25%.

Gbemi Babalola, senior analyst at The King’s Fund, commented: "NHS staff are working hard to restore services to full capacity, and help is available when people need urgent care and treatment. At the same time, there needs to be honesty about what is achievable, and recognition that, as we head into the traditionally challenging winter months, long waits for routine diagnostic and surgical procedures are likely here to stay."

Polling data from the Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI suggests 77% of people would be comfortable using a hospital now compared with 52% in May.

People from BAME backgrounds (28%) and those living with a disability (34%) were more likely to feel uncomfortable about using their local hospital than the 22% overall figure.

Exposure to COVID-19 was the most common concern.

Operation Moonshot

Following the Prime Minister's announcement of ambitious mass testing under his Operation Moonshot plans, ministers admitted the required technology does not yet exist.

The first phase involves 500,000 daily tests by October. This was announced amid issues reported with current testing availability and lab capacity problems.

However, England's Health Secretary Matt Hanock told the Commons: "If everything comes together, and if the technology comes off, it will be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to get closer to normal before Christmas."

New Restrictions

After England's announcement of a 'rule of six' for social gathering from Monday, Scotland and Wales announced similar measures. However, in Scotland children under 12 won't count towards the new limit.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that "as we released ourselves from lockdown, we also released the virus. Rather than the threat to public health receding, the pandemic is accelerating again - albeit, and thankfully, from a low base and not as rapidly."

In Wales, under 12s don't count to the indoor gathering total, but up to 30 people can still meet outdoors.

Wales has also caught up on face coverings in shops and indoor spaces by making them mandatory from Monday.

The latest local lockdowns announced today affect Birmingham, Sandwell, and Solihull from Tuesday.

Test and Trace

The latest data from England's Test and Trace programme show a 43% increase in weekly cases in the week ending 2 September. That's the highest since the service launched in May.

However, 30.8% of close contacts of people who tested positive were not reached by contact tracers.

Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection Baroness Dido Harding, said there'd been a "concerning" rising in cases in recent days, and: "We are doing more testing for the British public than other comparable European countries and we are adding thousands more tests a day."

Exeter University research found 41% of people would prefer coronavirus contact tracing to be carried out by a combination of apps and humans, 22% wanted human-only tracing, and 37% would prefer a digital-only system.

Social Care

The BMA issued a paper calling for urgent reform of social care in England making it free at the point of need. Strains in social care result in problems for the NHS it said.

Dr Helena McKeown, chair of the representative body at the BMA, said social care was "an afterthought" in Government priorities. "The BMA has long been calling for reform, so it was both infuriating and heart-breaking to see the impact COVID-19 had on care homes at the height of the pandemic. The virus, paired with a chronic lack of investment, threatened to break an already fragile system, wreaking utter devastation on the lives of those living and working in care homes. Take PPE, for example. For care homes it came too late, leaving staff and residents dangerously exposed."

Abortions

The temporary easing of home abortion pill rules allowing telemedicine services under lockdown led to a higher proportion of terminations at earlier gestation in England and Wales, latest data show.

  • 86% of abortions were performed at under 10 weeks compared with 81% in January to June 2019.

  • Nearly 50% of abortions were performed before 7 weeks gestation from January to June 2020 compared to almost 40% for the same period in 2019.

  • 36% of terminations were done from weeks 7 to 9 in the first 6 months of 2020 compared to 42% in the first 6 months of 2019.

Clare Murphy, deputy chief executive at BPAS the leading abortion provider in the UK, commented: "These figures illustrate that access to abortion care has been one of the few healthcare success stories of this pandemic, with women able to obtain the help and support they need earlier in pregnancy."

Travel Restrictions

Portugal, apart from the Azores and Madeira, is back on England's quarantine list from 4am on Saturday. Restrictions were already in place by Wales and Scotland.

However, Sweden is now on the isolation exemption list for England, Wales, and Scotland.

Different Lives 

Despite overall easing of measures 28% of adults say their lives are still 'completely different' or have 'lots of differences' compared to pre-lockdown, according to UCL's continuing COVID-19 Social Study.

Lead author, Dr Daisy Fancourt, commented: "This shows that whilst many aspects of society are operating again, we’re far from a return to 'normal' and the virus is still very much having an impact on people’s everyday lives."

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

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