UK COVID-19 Update: Phone Ahead for A&E, North East Lockdown

Tim Locke

September 17, 2020

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

Phone Ahead for A&E

Some patients in England will have to phone 111 before being allowed to attend A&E under new measures to help emergency departments cope with winter pressures alongside COVID-19.

Wales announced similar trials in July.

The idea is being piloted in Cornwall, Portsmouth and SE Hampshire, Blackpool, and Warrington.

Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said: "The proposals to use 111 as a key 'front door' to emergency care and redirect patients to the right service, avoiding the need to attend busy emergency departments when not required, are the right approach. They have been developed after extensive work between national and local leaders. It is appropriate that they should be properly piloted before they are fully rolled out but we are hopeful these pilots will prove successful."

Professor Donal O’Donoghue, Royal College of Physicians registrar commented: "Seeing patients being treated in the corridors of emergency departments and acute medicine units has sadly been a frequent sight over the past few years. Any steps the Government can take to prevent this are certainly welcome, particularly given the added pressures and risks of COVID-19."

He added: "It’s incredibly important that public messaging is clear and that people aren’t deterred from seeking urgent care when they need it."

North East England Local Lockdown

The latest area to come under local lockdown restrictions is the North East of England including Newcastle, Sunderland, South Tyneside, and Gateshead.

From midnight people are banned from mixing with other households and pubs will close early at 10pm.

Amanda Healey, director of Public Health at Durham County Council, said in a statement: “Each local authority is seeing a rise in cases and all have infection rates higher than 20 per 100,000. For some, it is much higher and we know that if we do not take action now, even stricter measures will be needed and imposed upon us, whereas if we move fast and work together we stand a chance of reducing and shortening this phase of the pandemic."

This morning Health Minister Edward Argar denied rumours the Government was considering a 2-week national lockdown to drive down infections.

Testing Performance 

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons the rise in UK positive cases to 3991 yesterday was "concerning", "And this week the number of patients in mechanical ventilator beds has risen above 100 for the first time since July."

Today there were another 3395 positive cases reported.

NHS Test and Trace announced a 167% rise in positive tests in England in the week to 9 September compared with the end of August.

Only a third of in-person community test results were received within 24 hours compared to 66.5% the previous week.

Of the people who tested positive who were transferred to the contact tracing system, 82.6% were reached and asked to give contact details, and of all contacts identified, 73.9% were reached.

Two new 'Lighthouse' laboratories have been announced for Newcastle and Bracknell to boost test processing capacity.


The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh is calling for a UK taskforce to be set up to assess COVID-19's impact on healthcare workers.

The remit should include investigating whether adequate time, staffing, and equipment is made available to maintain service activity.

College Acting President Professor Angela Thomas commented: "The COVID-19 pandemic has been, and continues to be, a challenging period for healthcare workers in the UK."

She continued: “But at this juncture, our thoughts must turn to how we can support the profession to continue the fight against COVID-19, while protecting their time to train, time to research, and time to develop their knowledge and skills."

The call comes on World Patient Safety Day which has the slogan "safe health workers, safe patients".

Lung Cancer Referrals Down

Cancer Research UK highlighted more problems with delays in cancer services during the pandemic with at least 14,000 fewer patients urgently referred for lung cancer tests since March, according to its analysis.

It also cited its survey of 1000 UK GPs of which 44% said fewer patients were coming forward with possible lung cancer symptoms.

The charity's Chief Clinician Professor Charles Swanton said in a statement: "Without urgent action to overcome the barriers deterring people from seeking help from their GP and being referred for further tests, lung cancer risks becoming the forgotten disease of the pandemic.

"The UK already lags behind our European neighbours when it comes to lung cancer survival and the dramatic reduction in the number of tests since the start of lockdown is a dire warning of the hundreds of lives that could be lost to this disease as a result."

Stroke Care Concerns

The Stroke Association published a report which it said showed that stroke care is "on the precipice of a national crisis" due to COVID-19, and that for many stroke survivors recovery gains may be lost.

The Association said 30% of those who had a stroke during the pandemic delayed seeking emergency medical attention due to coronavirus, and 39% of those who had a stroke this year felt they had not received enough rehabilitation therapies.

The report is called 'Stroke recoveries at risk' and was based on a survey of nearly 2000 people affected by stroke.

It calls for UK governments to commit to initiatives to deliver commitments made prior to thepandemic.

'Cataract Drive'

Moorfields Eye Hospital in London is quadrupling eye operations in a single week in a 'cataract drive' to help clear waiting lists impacted by COVID-19.

Eight operating theatres will be used across 6 days.

Consultant eye surgeon and cataract service director, Vincenzo Maurino, said: "The cataract drive needs a great deal of planning and we are rethinking how we do almost everything to make this possible. We are excited about this opportunity to help so many of our patients in such a short time and we hope to learn from this novel approach."

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


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