UK COVID-19 Update: Latest Long COVID Data, Staff Quitting in 'No-win Cycle'

Tim Locke

March 24, 2021

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

Latest Long COVID Data

University of Leicester's preprint PHOSP-COVID study involving 1077 discharged COVID-19 patients found that at 6-month follow up:

  • 29% felt fully recovered

  • 20% had a new disability

  • 19% experienced a health-related change in occupation

Factors associated with a failure to fully recover were:

  • Female

  • Middle-age

  • White ethnicity

  • Two or more comorbidities

  • More severe acute illness

Chief Investigator Professor Chris Brightling said: "While the profile of patients being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 is disproportionately male and from an Ethnic Minority background, our study finds that those who have the most severe prolonged symptoms tend to be White women aged approximately 40 to 60 who have at least two long-term health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes."

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty commented: "It is important that we work out what exactly the various elements of what is currently termed 'Long COVID' are so we can target actions to prevent and treat people suffering with long-term effects."

Staff Quitting in 'No-win Cycle'

An NHS Confederation report warns of a risk that thousands of NHS staff will leave unless they are given the time and space to recover from the pandemic. 

Commenting, Dr Sarah Clarke, Royal College of Physicians (RCP) clinical vice president, said: "Scheduled time off when the worst of the pandemic is over will give staff the strength to face the next challenge of tackling the immense backlog of non-COVID-19 care and may stop the NHS losing staff at this critical time."

Dr David Wrigley, BMA wellbeing lead and deputy council chair, said: "The health service cannot function without its staff but increasingly, we risk huge numbers leaving the profession as a result of the unacceptable demands placed upon them – demands that are placing their own health at risk. This is a dangerous and no-win cycle that exacerbates the serious staffing shortages that exist and places further pressure on the current workforce." 

UK Health Security Agency

The new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)  will be run by Dr Jenny Harries as its chief executive from 1 April. She's currently England's deputy CMO. She said: "The pandemic has put the UK’s health security capabilities in sharp focus and the UKHSA will change the way we approach health protection.

"With the creation of the UKHSA, we have an unprecedented opportunity to build on the scientific and operational strength that has been developed, learn from the past and further develop strong bonds with health protection leadership from global to local, to ensure we are ready for the challenges of the future."

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Local Government Association: "I want everybody at UKHSA at all levels to wake up every day with a zeal to plan for the next pandemic. That sort of focus is vital, it is vital when the crisis is live like now but in a way that’s the easy bit, the hard bit is keeping that focus in the good times too when there’s no pandemic on the horizon."

CQC Inspections Resuming

The Care Quality Commission's board met today and Chief Executive Ian Trenholm wrote in a report: "As the pressures on health and social care systems begins to ease, it is incumbent upon us to consider our role in supporting providers in developing recovery plans, taking into account the needs of teams in recovering from the pandemic, and patients waiting for treatment. It is essential that any recovery plan includes both factors."

He added: "We will continue to undertake inspection activity that either helps create capacity to respond to COVID-19 or that responds to significant risk of harm to the public."

Lung Cancer Delays 'Perfect Storm'

Cancer Research UK says the pandemic has led to a "perfect storm" of problems causing lung cancer diagnosis delays. Urgent GP referrals are down 34% since last March and 9% fewer patients started treatment.

The charity asked 1000 GPs about the reason for the delays. They said:

  • Patients reluctance to attend hospital for tests (91%)

  • Symptomatic patients not coming forward to primary care (78%)

  • Turnaround time for diagnostic tests (73%)

  • Difficulty identifying symptoms via remote consultation (68%)

The charity's Chief Executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: "We’re hugely concerned for people who have symptoms but haven’t come forward or are putting off further tests.

"Government and NHS leaders must give cancer services the resources needed to ensure patients can swiftly receive tests and a prompt diagnosis. They must also continue public awareness campaigns to encourage people who notice any unusual changes to their body to contact their GP and reassure them that surgeries and hospitals are safe."

Vaccine Hesitancy Down

UCL’s Virus Watch study of 46,000 people in England and Wales suggests that 86% of people who were unsure or said no to a COVID-19 vaccine in December would now have a jab, or have already been vaccinated.

Those aged 25-35 were almost nine times more likely to intend to refuse a jab last month compared to over 75-year-olds.

Lead author, Dr Parth Patel, said: "The really good news is the overwhelming majority of people who were reluctant about taking a vaccine just a few months ago have now changed their minds. Most people are considering the vaccine carefully and saying ‘yes’ when it's their turn. However, that does not mean race and class disparities in vaccination rates will disappear. We should think twice before putting those differences down to vaccine hesitancy."

YouGov polling of 8000 people across seven European countries found confidence in the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine fell everywhere except the UK after recent blood clotting concerns. In France, 61% think it is unsafe, while the figure was 55% in Germany. That contrasts with 77% saying it is safe in the UK.

India's Virus Variant

India reported a novel variant of the coronavirus. 

The country's health ministry said: "Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states."

'Capitalism' and 'Greed'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a private video meeting of his backbench MPs that  "capitalism" and "greed" were behind the success of the vaccination programme, before quickly withdrawing the remarks.

This afternoon he was appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee to be questioned about the Government's pandemic response. Yesterday, he conceded: "There are probably many things that we wished that we'd known, and many things that we wish that we'd done differently at the time in retrospect," he said, highlighting false assumptions about asymptomatic transmission.

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

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