UK COVID-19 Update: 'Significant' Pandemic Burden on Female Staff, Porton Down Investment

Tim Locke

May 05, 2021

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

'Significant' Pandemic Burden on Female Staff

There was a significant worsening in the physical and mental wellbeing of female health and care workers in England during the pandemic, according to 900 responses to an NHS Confederation poll of male and female staff carried out in February and March.

More than 80% of female respondents, including doctors and nurses, reported their job had a greater negative impact than usual on their emotional wellbeing as a result of the pandemic. That's up from 72% in a similar survey last June..

There was also a 13% rise to 65% in those reporting a negative impact on physical health.

Samantha Allen, chair of the NHS Confederation’s Health and Care Women Leaders Network, said: "These survey findings underline the importance of the focus being placed upon the physical and mental health of NHS and care staff. As the majority of the health and care workforce is female, a significant burden in overcoming the enormous challenges we face in recovering services will fall on the shoulders of women."

Porton Down Investment

Public Health England’s Porton Down virus and vaccine testing facilities are getting a £29.3 million boost to "further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: "A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave. This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants."

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi again confirmed today that plans are being formed for autumn booster jabs for some people, possibly over-50s. "We want them [CMOs] to be able, if they need to, from September onwards to boost those that are most vulnerable," he told Sky News.

Deaths

The number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 23 April was 5.3% below the 5-year average and COVID-19 accounted for 2.6% of all deaths which is down from 3.5% the previous week.

"It’s pretty well all good news," commented Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, via the Science Media Centre.

However, he cautioned: "I ought to remind you, though, that COVID-19 hasn’t gone away.  Despite these very important decreases in registered deaths related to COVID-19, the numbers of deaths are still roughly double what they were between mid-July and mid-September last year.  That is also true of the deaths where COVID-19 is given as the underlying cause on the death certificate.  There were 176 such deaths registered in the latest week, and again that’s very roughly twice the average level for August 2020.  So things aren’t yet back to normal, whatever that means precisely."

Mental Health

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show 21% of adults experienced depressive symptoms in early 2021. That's more than double pre-pandemic levels.

Younger adults, women, people with disabilities, and clinically extremely vulnerable people were more likely to experience some form of depression.

Meanwhile, a London South Bank University and Kingston University survey of 286 people carried out in February suggests 'COVID-19 anxiety syndrome' could mean many people may struggle to cope with post-pandemic life. Those at higher risk due to health conditions scored significantly higher on the COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale than the rest of the population.

The results showed virus concerns meant:

  • 54% strongly endorsed avoiding public transport

  • 38% strongly endorsed avoiding going out to public places

Care Home Rules

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has criticised the Government over blanket bans on care home visits and says individual risk assessments should be underpinned in law.

Committee Chair, Harriet Harman, said: "As we moved to publish this report, the Government announced plans to relax the 14 day rule in England for care residents’ visits out for some instances of ‘low-risk’ trips. It has taken a great deal of effort by families, including a promise of legal action, to make this happen."

She added: "As our report demonstrates, the pandemic has had a significant toll on residents of care homes and their families who crave the return of meaningful relationships with their loved ones. Restoring their human rights must be a matter of priority."

More News

  • The UK is sending another 1000 ventilators to hospitals in India as daily cases there rose by a record 3780 in the last 24 hours.

  • The Indian delegation to the G7 foreign ministers' meeting in London is self-isolating after two members tested positive.

  • Canadian researchers have developed a COVID coaching programme to provide 'psychological PPE' for healthcare workers, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2021 Annual Meeting has heard.

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

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