UK COVID-19 Update: Health Bill Pandemic Concerns, How COVID-19 Helped Med Students

Tim Locke

July 07, 2021

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

Health Bill Pandemic Concerns

The BMA responded to the Government introducing England's Health and Care Bill to Parliament.

"Whilst in the midst of a pandemic and facing the largest backlog on record, the BMA has consistently raised concerns whether now is the right time to introduce wholesale reforms," said Deputy Chair Dr David Wrigley.

"The NHS since its inception has been subject to countless reorganisations, which never fully achieve what they set out to only to have to go back to the drawing board. And now in 2021, the NHS finds itself in the most precarious position it has ever been in."

Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt, said there were "two major omissions of great concern: firstly on social care, where this Bill is a missed opportunity to publish not only the detail of planned reforms, but crucially, how they will be paid for. Secondly, it says little about the desperately needed overhaul of workforce planning given the shortages in nearly every NHS and care specialty right now. Without addressing such pressing issues the broader ambition of the Bill will not be achieved."

People's COVID Inquiry

The People's COVID Inquiry, chaired by Michael Mansfield QC, issued its preliminary findings into the Government's pandemic response today.

The unofficial inquiry was set up by campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, and has heard from expert witnesses, including Dr David Wrigley from the BMA, and Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director, UCL Institute of Health Equity.

"The Government ignored the pandemic to begin with, ignored the recommendations from Exercise Cygnus, repeatedly ignored the science, had decimated public services, then ignored the cries of those working in the NHS, in social care, and in other crucial services, and as we have heard, ignored the offers of procurement from those working inside the NHS for PPE," the Inquiry said.

The Prime Minister has said the official pandemic inquiry will be launched next Spring.

How COVID-19 Helped Med Students

The GMC said medical students who graduated early to help out in the pandemic's first wave as interim Foundation Year 1 (FiY1) doctors gained experience that left them better prepared for their careers.

GMC Medical Director and Director of Education and Standards, Professor Colin Melville, said: "The creation of FiY1 roles was an innovative response to an unprecedented situation. The challenge of starting work in those circumstances was huge, and so we are grateful to all those graduates who were able to fill these posts and to be part of the NHS response to the pandemic.

"Now we need to consider how to harness the positive features of these interim roles to benefit future medical graduates. This report will help us do that, and it will inform the conversations we have as we continue to shape medical education and training."

Antibodies

Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey data show an estimated 84.7% - 91.8% of UK adults would have tested positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 on a blood test in the week beginning 14 June.

Kara Steel from ONS commented: "Today’s figures show the vast majority of adults across the UK now have some level of protection against COVID-19.

"As restrictions are eased further, this protection will hopefully help to protect many people developing severe symptoms."

Diabetes 'Timebomb'

Diabetes UK said nearly 2.5 million people in England with diabetes haven't had recommended health checks during the pandemic, and there have been tens of thousands of missed or delayed type 2 diabetes diagnoses.

The charity's Chief Executive, Chris Askew, said: "We’re sitting on a diabetes timebomb – a rapidly growing crisis for diabetes care – which is why we are urgently calling on the UK Government to put people living with diabetes at the heart of its post-pandemic health agenda." 

SMART Mass Testing 

Analysis of Liverpool’s SMART (Systematic, Meaningful, Asymptomatic/Agile, Repeated Testing) community testing pilot claimed a reduction of more than a fifth in COVID-19 cases.

  • Between November and April 283,338 people took lateral flow tests

  • 6300 asymptomatic cases were detected

  • 22,567 symptomatic cases were detected

The City's Director of Public Health, Matthew Ashton, said: "The COVID-19 testing pilot was cutting edge public health work in action and a substantial number of people in the city embraced it.

"It helped cement regular testing as a way of identifying those with the virus who would have been unknowingly spreading it to others, and contributed to the fall in the infection rate we saw in Liverpool over the course of the pilot. It proved to be hugely valuable at a point in time when the vaccines had not yet been rolled out.

"It also reinforced challenges we face across all areas of public health, such as how to reach those in deprived areas, and helped us to work together with partners to address them."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Dr Angela Raffle, consultant in public health and honorary senior lecturer University of Bristol Medical School, said: "An honest headline...would be 'Do not impose piecemeal testing initiatives each run by separate agencies, at short notice and without sufficient attention to logistics, test performance in real life settings, training, quality assurance, or honest and consistent public information.'

"The press release glosses over this message and instead highlights a supposed '21% reduction in cases compared with other areas'. Yet there were no predetermined control areas, and the 21% figure is derived from modelling and assumptions."

A&E Pressure

Scotland's emergency departments saw the highest ever May figure for A&E patients delayed by 4 hours or more.

Dr John Thomson, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: "The data is deeply concerning and very much reflects what is happening on the ground. Departments are busier than ever, especially for the summer period with some record-breaking figures for the month of May, and it is becoming increasingly challenging.

"These figures come at a time when reports suggest Scotland has the highest COVID infection rate in Europe. We are battling community admissions, elective care patients seeking treatment, as well as increasing COVID patients attending our departments, all within the context of reduced bed-stock."

Stool Transplants

Stool transplants may be worth considering to treat COVID-19 infection, according to Polish doctors in a letter published in the journal Gut.

They document the cases of two patients being treated for Clostridioides difficile who also tested positive for coronavirus but whose COVID-19 symptoms cleared up rapidly after transplantation.

The write: "Our main conclusion from these cases is that [stool transplant] appears safe and of comparable efficacy in treating recurrent [C difficile infection] in patients with coexisting COVID-19.

"A further more speculative question is whether [it] may impact the clinical course of COVID-19."

Life Sciences 'Vision'

The UK’s pandemic scientific response is being used as a 'blueprint' for the Government’s new UK Life Sciences Vision.

Professor Sir John Bell, University of Oxford, co-chair of the External Advisory Group said: "There is now a race to become one of the world leaders in the growth of Life Sciences as an industrial sector. We have demonstrated throughout the COVID pandemic how effective we can be when industry, academia, government, charities, and the NHS all work together. If we continue to work as effectively together we are very likely to bring great benefits to patients and also to grow our economy at pace."

Downplaying COVID

People will take the pandemic less seriously once lockdown restrictions are lifted, according to Cardiff University-led surveys published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

Lead author Dr Colin Foad said: "Surprisingly, we found that people judge the severity of the COVID-19 threat based on the fact the Government imposed a lockdown - in other words, they thought 'it must be bad if government's taking such drastic measures'.

"We also found that the more they judged the risk in this way, the more they supported lockdown. This suggests that if and when 'Freedom Day' comes and restrictions are lifted, people may downplay the threat of COVID."

Mask Choice Poll Results

On Monday, we asked after July 19, if you live in England, will you still wear a mask in shops and other non-work settings?

'Yes', said 83%, 'no' said 17% of readers.

Coming Home

Sixty-thousand fans will be at Wembley for tonight's European Championship semi-final between England and Denmark.

Ticket holders aged 11 and over have to show evidence of negative test results, natural immunity, or vaccination status. Face coverings are needed until fans are seated.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told LBC Radio this morning: "If you have thousands of people in one place... there's always risk in life.

"I think we're managing the risk. I'm confident there won't be a big outbreak but we can't guarantee that now."

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

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