I am delighted that PHE’s Professor John Newton has been appointed by the Secretary of State in a new role as the Government’s National Testing Coordinator. John will have a specific remit to advise ministers on how best to drive forward the Government’s strategy which seeks to bring together the capacity of public sector, industry and university power to fight the virus.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, every country has been racing to increase its testing capacity. The UK is no exception. Th anks to PHE’s scientific capability, the UK was one of the first countries outside China to have an assured test in place. This has enabled PHE and NHS laboratories to ensure that every hospital patient that requires a test has received one and we have delivered our target of achieving 10,000 tests per day and are well on track to reaching 25,000 tests per day – or 750,000 tests per month – by the end of April.
The next big development, on stream in a matter of days, will be the new mega-lab facilities at Milton Keynes, Cheshire and Glasgow which will be pivotal in delivering the Government’s commitment to 100,000 tests a day and particularly for key workers. This represents the scientific equivalence in terms of scale and pace, as the new NHS Nightingale hospitals.
I extend a heartfelt thank you to all PHE staff, in particular our scientists, who are working unrelentingly day and night, seven days a week, and I am immensely proud of you for this.
The UK Government has published new guidance about personal protective equipment (PPE) for those in the NHS and social care. Agreed by the four Chief Medical Officers, Chief Nursing Officers and Chief Dental Officers, this is based on the best scientific evidence and the World Health Organization has confirmed it is consistent with what it recommends in circumstances and settings with the highest risk of transmission. I would like to thank the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges for their help in ensuring that this refreshed guidance addresses the concerns of colleagues on the frontline, which is of course of utmost importance.
On Sunday, PHE published new guidance setting out practical actions the public can take to look after their mental health and wellbeing, as well as separate guidance tailored for parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health, both developed in partnership with leading mental health charities and clinically assured by the NHS.
Related to this is how the end of life is sensitively handled and the difficult decisions on how to advise family and friends on social distancing at funerals. We consulted faith groups and this week published guidance on the care of the deceased with suspect or confirmed COVID-19, and all our thoughts are with the families and friends who have lost loved ones.
We have launched a WhatsApp chatbot tool to ensure that the public have trustworthy information about COVID-19 from GOV.UK and NHS.UK, including advice on prevention, symptoms and staying at home. The new service has already attracted one million messages and you can add 07860 064422 in your phone contacts and then send ‘hi’ in a WhatsApp message to get started.
Public Health Scotland
And finally, congratulations to Public Health Scotland, which was established this week. The new agency will support the Scottish Government and local authorities to protect and improve Scotland’s public health and we look forward to being a good friend and partner to them.
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Contributor: Duncan Selbie