Wednesday, April 1, 2020 8:50 pm
By Funmi Peter-Omale/London
Pressure is being mounted on the UK government to increase and extend the coronavirus Covid-19 tests, especially among frontline National Health Service (NHS) staff, who day by day, are faced with difficulties and risks of getting infected. This is in sharp contrast to government ministers’ claims that “significant progress” is being made.
Already, thousands of NHS workers, including doctors, nurses and consultants that have not been tested, but showing symptoms are self-isolating, which necessitated government calling for volunteers to sign up, to help with the deluge of duties. So far, tens of thousands of volunteers, including retired doctors, nurses, medical and nursing students, and so many others have signed up. As at the last count, up to 750,000 have signed up.
Non medical Volunteers were also needed to help about 1.5 million vulnerable people isolating for 12 weeks, duties include delivering shopping and medication to those in need, transporting patients and NHS equipment, or simply checking in and chatting on the phone with individuals on isolation.
In most recent days, despite government’s assurances, NHS has taken to social media with videos of how they are managing without adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), some having to reuse disposables or having to share with colleagues. There have been stories of supplies being hoarded because staff don’t have enough.
Robert Jenrick, Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary stated yesterday that the UK is now able to test 12,750 people every day. He said 8,240 people were tested on Monday while 900 NHS staff were tested over the weekend. He also said in the coming days, 15000 to 25000 should be tested per day. These numbers are in variance with the figures made available to them, Public Health England has said. While admitting that testing capacity has dramatically gone up, they were unable to confirm government numbers.
As at noon today, over 25,000 confirmed cases and 1,824 deaths have been confirmed in the UK, 161 deaths in England, 69 deaths in Wales, 76 deaths in Scotland and 28 in Northern Ireland. Until late last week, testing had mainly been limited, almost completely focused on those in critical care and this had caused public outcry and condemnation, because frontline medical and NHS staff were not being tested though they are at risk and are sometimes working without adequate PPEs and equipment.
But speaking to Sky news this morning, Jenrick defended government’s initial decision to test only the critically ill saying that at that time, “that was the way to save people’s lives, so hospital staff could understand what the condition (Covid-19) was, of those people who were in critical care, and know how to treat them appropriately”
Government has also been criticised for advising people exhibiting symptoms to stay and self isolate at home and to ring NHS 111 for advice; while high profile personalities like Prince Charles, Boris Johnson, Idris Elba, and some members of the cabinet also exhibiting one or two symptoms were offered testing while same is not made available to others also feeling unwell.
Notwithstanding the outcries, government says there are now more capacity to offer more testing. According to Jenrick: “Although I appreciate it from a base that is lower than any of us would wish, we are now making significant progress.” He added that many of the tests would now be brought forward.
Like other countries battling with the pandemic, there is a shortage of everything; staff hospital beds, PPE , ventilators, testing kits for the virus and antibody testing kits and so on.
Currently, the UK has a little over 12,000 ventilators, and government has admitted much more is needed, and they have appealed to British manufacturers and producers to help in this regard. Jenrick also lamented the non availability of the agents needed for testing saying there’s an increased demand for them, but was hopeful there would be an increase in supply this week so that more people can be tested.
Meanwhile the NHS Nightingale Critical care unit is starting operation today. The 4,000 bed temporary facility, located at Excel Convention Centre (this is where the RCCG holds its annual London festival of Life), was constructed within nine days and fully equipped to exclusively treat and manage covid-19 victims. Over 15,000 medical staff are being deployed to the facility.
Dr. Alan McGlennam, Medical Director explained “We’re an NHS facility within London, so we take our resources from London. We want to re-coordinate from the centre so they know the best place to deploy staff and resources. We are producing a facility that makes best use of that so when we get to capacity and even over, it will be quite clear where to put those resources.”
The Ministry of Defence helped to develop, design and deliver this epoch facility. “The whole idea about building at (this) scale and pace is to build a really fantastic facility that delivers safe (health) care at scale and keeping ahead of the virus. That’s what we do” says Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, the top army chief in charge of the soldiers who designed and built the facility.
Similar critical care field hospitals with extra thousands of bed spaces, specifically to treat Covid-19 victims are also being built in Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham.
-Funmi Peter-Omale, journalist, writes from London