UK COVID-19 Update: Patients 'Struggled to See GPs', More Positive Oxford Jab Data

Tim Locke

March 22, 2021

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

Patients 'Struggled to See GPs'

A Healthwatch report found tens of thousands of people in England struggled to contact or see their GP during the first year of the pandemic. Negative experiences of GP access rose by 20% under the pandemic to the highest ever levels.

Sir Robert Francis QC, chair of Healthwatch England, said: "We urge NHS England to undertake a formal review of the ways people access GPs. It is important that people  understand the changes brought in during the pandemic are here to stay and how that affects the way they can get the care and support they need." 

Commenting, Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC chair at the BMA, said: "Just as patients might have felt frustrated during this time though, so too have practice teams, who have had to adjust to ever-changing goalposts about how best to provide care."

He continued: "We understand that the pandemic has been difficult for many of our patients – it has for us too - but it’s important to remember the context practices are currently operating in; a once-in-a-generation health crisis with minimal Government support. Government and NHS leadership must learn from this, to ensure services are better prepared for the future, and that GPs are never left again without the resources and funding they need."

Doctors' Pay 

Polling of 2102 BritainThinks members suggests that 62% of people support a pay rise for NHS doctors. Nineteen percent of those polled 24-25 February said no to a pay rise and 18% didn't know.

Those who agreed with a pay rise were then asked to put a figure on it:

  • Below 1% rise: 1%

  • 1-2% rise: 13%

  • 3-5% rise: 35%

  • 6-10% rise: 23%

  • 11-15% rise: 6%

  • 16% or more: 8%

  • Don't know: 16%

The BMA said the results support its 'Fairness for the Frontline' campaign. Dr Rob Harwood, the chair of the Consultants Committee said: "For the Government therefore to suggest a 1% pay rise, after years of underpay and given consultants’ extraordinary efforts throughout this pandemic, it is nothing more than insulting. We believe that 5% is a fair pay rise for hospital consultants, ministers need to listen to the voices of doctors and the public and show them just how much they are valued by rewarding consultants with the fair pay that they most definitely deserve."

More Positive Oxford Jab Data

Phase 3 interim results from more than 32,000 participants in an AstraZeneca study in the USA, Chile, and Peru confirm the Oxford vaccine is safe and highly effective, according to a company news release.

The vaccine had 79% efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% efficacy at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation.

A specific review was carried out of thrombotic events, as well as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). No increased risk of thrombosis or events characterised by thrombosis  was found and, "The specific search for CVST found no events in this trial."

Oxford University said the absolute efficacy is higher in this study than its research because  "efficacy is affected by the protocol case definition (higher for more severe cases) and the population in which the study is conducted".

Professor Andrew Pollard, Oxford lead investigator, commented: "These results are great news as they show the remarkable efficacy of the vaccine in a new population and are consistent with the results from Oxford-led trials. We can expect strong impact against COVID-19 across all ages and for people of all different backgrounds from widespread use of the vaccine."

Detecting New Variants

England's Test and Trace laboratories.are trialling genotype assay testing to identify variants of concern faster. The technology could halve the current 4-5 day genomic sequencing time.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: "The progress made so far developing these new genotype assays is very encouraging and I am confident we will see positive outcomes from piloting this technology."

Jabs Records Broken

Last week the NHS warned of supply issues next month but for now good supplies have allowed for record vaccination numbers.

NHS England said nearly 100,000 COVID-19 jabs were delivered in a single hour, 27 a second, on what it called a "Super Saturday" with a record 844,285 UK vaccinations. More than half the adult population has now had at least one dose.

Among recent recipients was Prime Minister Boris Johnson who returned to St Thomas' Hospital for his first dose of the Oxford jab. Last year he was treated in the hospital's ICU.

Mr Johnson is expected to ask European leaders to dismiss any attempts to block coronavirus vaccine exports to the UK. The European Commission has criticised AstraZeneca's delivery of doses to the EU and a ban could affect supplies from AZ's Halix plant in the Netherlands. 

Cases Plateau

The Observer asked why the fall in the infection rate has plateaued despite the success of the vaccination campaign?

New cases remain above 5000 a day. It quoted Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics, Imperial College London. "Because the vaccine has had a very high uptake in the age groups which are most likely to go to hospital or to die, then we would expect – even if the number of infections stayed the same – hospitalisations and deaths to fall."

He cautioned that the impact of schools reopening could see a rise in cases.



Two trials are beginning into effective prophylactic treatments for people with compromised immune systems and those in care homes. 

PROTECT-V on immunocompromised groups is run by the University of Cambridge and will last at least 12 months. Senior Research Associate, Dr Rona Smith, said: "This trial will test if drugs may offer additional protection over and above the vaccine in vulnerable individuals and prevent them becoming unwell with COVID-19 infection."

PROTECT-CH on care home staff and residents is run by the University of Nottingham and will last around 2 years. Lead researcher, Professor Philip Bath, said: "Apart from vaccines, there are no drugs for preventing serious COVID-19 and the PROTECT-CH trial is designed to test drugs that might reduce infection, hospital admission, and death."

Auditory Symptoms

Hearing loss and other auditory problems are strongly linked with COVID-19 according to a review of evidence led by the University of Manchester published in the International Journal of Audiology.

Pooled data from 24 studies estimated that prevalence of:

  • Hearing loss was 7.6%

  • Tinnitus was 14.8%

  • Vertigo was 7.2%

Professor of Audiology, Kevin Munro, said: "There is an urgent need for a carefully conducted clinical and diagnostic study to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the auditory system."

Heart Failure

British Heart Foundation (BHF) analysis found a 22% drop in admissions for heart failure last January to September compared to the same period the previous year.

BHF Medical Director, Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, said: "The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been an anxious and isolating time for many people living with heart failure. We know the health service is working extremely hard to treat all patients, but our analysis suggests some patients may have fallen through the cracks and become invisible to the system.  

"Now, as we come out of the pandemic, is the time to focus on resuming and improving care, so people with heart failure are able to have a better quality of life, for longer."

Domestic Abuse

Women who have experienced domestic abuse and sexual assault are being urged to ask the NHS for support.

Last year under lockdown, the number of people receiving help from NHS Sexual Assault Referral clinics halved despite domestic abuse and sexual assault cases increasing.

Violence against women has come into sharp focus following the death of Sarah Everard. Kate Davies, NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning, said: "This is a key moment in time in the fight against domestic abuse and sexual assault, and NHS England is playing its part in helping victims get the help they deserve."

Panic Buying Plea Nurse 'May Quit'

Last year critical care nurse Dawn Bilbrough made a tearful appeal on social media for people not to panic buy after finding supermarket shelves empty following a 48-hour week.

At the weekend, she told the BBC she's considering leaving nursing after a year that's been "relentless, incredibly traumatic, and emotionally and physically exhausting".

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


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