UK COVID-19 Update: AstraZeneca Revises Jab Data, NHS 111 COVID Advice Investigated, Scotland's Pay Rise

Tim Locke

March 25, 2021

Editor's note, 25 March 2021: This article was updated with the result of a vote in the Commons.

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

AstraZeneca Revises Jab Data

AstraZeneca issued updated vaccine data today after being criticised by US experts for its "incomplete " interim phase 3 figures in a press release earlier this week.

It said the jab was 76% effective rather than the 79% reported previously.

In a statement, Executive Vice President, Mene Pangalos, said: "The primary analysis is consistent with our previously released interim analysis, and confirms that our COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in adults, including those aged 65 years and over."

"Press releases are not a good form of scientific communication," commented Professor Stephen Evans, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, via the Science Media Centre.

"There seems to be a breakdown in relations between the DSMB [Data and Safety Monitoring Board] and the company which is probably due to a variety of factors and is sad. This vaccine is so important for global health and the disputes do not promote global health," he said.

NHS 111 COVID Advice Investigated

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) is investigating failures in COVID-19 advice given to some callers to England's NHS 111 service.

HSIB said in a statement: "Following concerns brought to us via the chair of our Citizen’s Partnership we undertook focus groups with members of the public to explore the issues raised around the NHS 111 response to callers with potential COVID-19 symptoms.

"These initial focus groups have helped to shape the direction of the investigation and we are now looking at several reference cases, rather than a single incident, to establish what the national learning is for the NHS 111 service.

"As the investigation progresses we will carry out further focus groups to ensure that the public perspective is integrated fully into our investigation."

Scotland's 4% NHS Pay Rise

NHS staff on pay bands 1-7 in Scotland are being offered at least a 4% pay rise in contrast to the 1% offered in England. The deal does not include doctors and the average pay of a frontline nurse would go up by over £1200 a year.

Scotland's Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: "This has been an exceptionally challenging year for our health service and I am pleased that the Scottish Government is able to recognise the service and dedication of our healthcare staff."

Staff Wellbeing

NHS England Operational Planning Guidance published today sets out funding for staff wellbeing as well as patient care as part of the NHS recovery plan.

There's also an additional £95million this year to boost maternity services following recent critical reports of care in some hospitals highlighted in the Ockenden Review.

Jab Slots 'Drying Up'

NHS England is urging people in eligible groups to book a COVID jab "in the next few days before slots dry up". 

Although last weekend saw record figures for doses delivered, supply constraints mean most available supplies will be used for second doses from next week.
 

Infection Survey

Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey data show the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 continues to decrease in both patient and non-patient facing job roles.

Latest data from Test and Trace in England show a 6% fall in positive cases from the previous week to 37,087. That's the lowest since the week ending 23 September.

Rapid Tests Reviewed

Cochrane researchers have reviewed the accuracy of rapid SARS-CoV-2 tests. They found antigen tests were better at identifying COVID-19 in people with symptoms than in people without.

Author, Professor Jon Deeks, University of Birmingham, said: "It is good to have found evidence that some test brands do meet the minimum 'acceptable' performance standards set by WHO for testing people with symptoms.

"However, they represent only a very small proportion of the commercially available tests. The situation is different for testing people without symptoms, particularly for the use of repeated rapid antigen tests to screen for SARS-CoV-2 infection in school pupils and staff, and hospital and care home workers.

"We didn’t find any data or studies evaluating the accuracy of these tests when used in repeated screening of people with no known exposure to SARS-CoV-2. These testing policies have been implemented without any supporting real-world evidence."

HEAL-COVID

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University of Cambridge are leading a new randomised clinical trial called HEAL-COVID to test apixaban and atorvastatin, and later a third drug, on patients as they are discharged from hospital.

Study lead, Dr Charlotte Summers, said: "Having survived the trauma of being hospitalised with COVID-19, far too many patients find themselves back in hospital with new or long-term complications.

"Unfortunately, many go on to die in the months after being discharged. This trial is the first of its kind to look at what drugs we could use to reduce the devastating impact on patients."

Politics

MPs voted to extend England's special coronavirus laws for another 6 months.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Commons Liaison Committee that pub landlords might be able to ban customers who cannot prove they've been vaccinated. Citing hepatitis B jabs for surgeons, Mr Johnson said the "basic concept of a vaccine certification should not be totally alien to us".

Talks have been continuing to try to avoid an EU ban on vaccine exports to some countries, including the UK.
 

Health Inequalities

The BMA has issued a report calling on UK governments to tackle health inequalities.

Co-Chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, Dr Penelope Toff, said: "There’s no doubt that the pandemic has perpetuated and worsened health inequalities within the UK and it’s simply unacceptable that in a country of such means we’ve seen so many people, including children, living in poverty and unable to access basic necessities such as sufficient and nourishing food.

“Many of these underlying inequalities are avoidable and remediable and there is both a moral and economic case for them to be addressed without delay."

Social Care

The National Audit Office (NAO) has issued a report on the adult social care market in England that concludes: "COVID-19 has focused attention on social care as never before."

NAO head Gareth Davies said: "The lack of a long-term vision for adult social care coupled with ineffective oversight of the system means people may not get the care that best supports them."

Professor Jonathan Steel, Royal College of Physicians lead fellow for social care, said: "This report is another in a long line that clearly demonstrate the need for urgent reform of social care. It is time for government to bite the bullet and do what needs to be done."

Chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt, commented: "The Health and Social Care Committee has recommended that as the starting point for wider reforms the Government must invest an extra £7bn per year in social care by the end of this parliament. As report after report makes clear what is needed, it is high time for the Government to make good on its promises to the people in social care."

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

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