The best news this week is that we are passing through the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak and that everyone’s huge sacrifice in staying at home is working. But the most important message this week is from the Prime Minister that this is also the moment of greatest risk and whilst plans are being thought through on how to ease restrictions, they will need to remain in place for some time. It really is a marathon, not a sprint.
The success of its coronavirus testing programme allowed the Government to announce on Tuesday that anyone in England with COVID-19 symptoms who has a job which cannot be done from home is now eligible to get tested, as are any symptomatic members of their household. You can see the full list of essential workers here and anyone who is eligible can book a test using this online portal. All symptomatic members of the public aged 65 and over, and symptomatic members of their household, are also now eligible to get tested.
In just a few short weeks, thanks to the collective grit and determination of scientists and logistics professionals from Government, PHE, the NHS, the military and commercial partners, the UK has created a test for the virus, more than doubled the productivity of NHS and PHE laboratories, built a network of 50 regional testing centres, scaled up to 70 mobile units, and created home testing kits which are backed up by the Lighthouse laboratories, or as Professor John Newton has coined them – the mega-labs.
This is the biggest expansion of UK diagnostic capacity in modern times, and I am certain that the 100,000 daily testing target by the end of April is just the start of what we are now capable of doing to protect our citizens. You can read more in John’s blog.
We are on track in scaling up the contact tracing capacity too. This week, NHS Professionals and commercial partners began the recruitment of an initial 18,000-strong contact tracing team as part of the Government’s Test and Trace programme. This is an integrated approach bringing together the assets of local, regional and national partners in the public health system. PHE and colleagues from local government and the Faculty of Public Health are at the heart of designing this programme.
Critical steps have also been taken to support the adult social care system. The action plan for adult social care has a four-pronged approach: first, controlling the spread of infection, second, supporting the workforce, third, supporting independence and people at the end of their lives and responding to individual needs, and fourth, supporting local authorities and the providers of care. Data is essential for all of these and starting this week, PHE is publishing a weekly dataset that shows the number and percentage of care homes reporting a suspected or confirmed outbreak of COVID-19 by local authority and NHS region. This sits alongside our weekly surveillance report and infographic.
To support those who provide and receive social care, PHE has also published two resources that adapt our existing PPE guidance to be more applicable in the context of care homes and domiciliary care.
And finally, another important data development this week is the links we can now make with three data sources to give us a more complete, daily understanding of the number of deaths following a positive test for COVID-19. We can now report daily deaths in all settings, including hospitals, care homes and the wider community by ensuring that NHS England data collected from trusts, deaths collected electronically from NHS information systems, and reports from PHE Health Protection Teams as part of their local outbreak management are included. You can read more about this here.
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Contributor: Duncan Selbie