NHS staff question lack of virus testing

A private Harley Street clinic sells a test for coronavirus for £375 – but frontline medics and patients are being denied checks

Friday, 20th March 2020 — By Tom Foot

Nurses with pizzas

Staff at the Whittington were sent pizzas by a happy patient to thank them for their hard work

NHS patients and staff are being denied coronavirus tests while a private clinic is selling the kits for £375 a go.

Questions are now being asked about why the testing kits and protective equipment have not been made easily available to the public.

While footballers and Hollywood actors have been posting that they have tested positive for the virus on social media, others are having to make do with guesswork and guidance to stay in doors for 14 days.

The Government has announced a target of checking 25,000 patients and key NHS staff every day within a month.

But Dr Jacky Davis, a Whittington radiologist and British Medical Association Council chief, speaking in a personal capacity, said action had come too late.

She added: “This is a huge, once-in-a-lifetime crisis, and we are not handling it properly. There needs to be better testing for frontline NHS staff and an inquest into why we weren’t ready.”

Dr Davis said that she knew of GPs who had coughs and felt it was just a seasonal virus but did not know for sure because of lack of testing. They have therefore had to isolate themselves, possibly unnecessarily.

She said: “Why were the NHS people making the decisions so slow to react to this? They knew two months ago this was coming. Why were they not ordering masks, PPE [personal protective equipment], looking at ventilators? They should have been making contingency plans weeks ago. It’s crazy. It’s just crazy.”

One hundred and forty-four people have died nationally and there have been more than 3,229 positive tests – this does not take into account that many people are not being tested and treating themselves at home. This has led for calls to get more testing for people who may have the virus and those who have already had it without being sure or realising.

In younger patients, the disease can show mild or no symptoms at all, but it can be a much more devastating virus for over-70s or people with underlying health conditions.

Dr Davis said the NHS and Government had been led too strongly by “behavioural scientists” who questioned whether the public would accept a lockdown.

Dr Jacky Davis

“They were saying British society means the public would never stay at home,” said Dr Davis.

“You only have to look at photos from Paris and Madrid – people will stay at home if they fear their lives are in danger. But we are being led by Boris Johnson, disaster, who no one trusts.”

A private clinic in Harley Street, Marylebone, says its £375 test is a “100 per cent accurate diagnostic tool that businesses and private patients can use”. It can also differentiate between normal flu and the “lethal Covid-19”.

The clinic said: “At present, the NHS is only offering testing for coronavirus to hospitalised patients. We can now confirm we are able to offer paid tests, via a postal courier service on a maximum three-day turnaround service to private individuals and organisations.”

There were concerns this week for an NHS worker from St Mary’s Hospital being treated in the Royal Free Hospital’s specialist intensive care unit.

“They are not testing her colleagues, who’ve used the same equipment,” said a colleague.

They said the case has focused minds on testing NHS staff and concerns that if large numbers become seriously ill they will have to take time off, heaping further pressure on the NHS.

Janet Maiden

Covid-19 staff protocol for treating patients at the Royal Free, seen by the Tribune, shows how it takes four trained staff members – three anaesthetists and an ODP (operating department practitioner) – just to prepare a coronavirus patient for “intubation”. Oxygen cylinders used in the 10- step process are also in desperately short supply.

At the Whittington, staff teams of five or six healthcare workers were needed to look after four recovering patients. All three hospitals used by Camden residents are reconfiguring wards and opening up beds to cope with the influx of patients. Thousands of outpatient appointments for planned surgery have been postponed, while hospitals are moving to a “telephone appointments” system where possible.

NHS workers are being universally praised for their response to the crisis, which has put an unprecedented strain on a service decimated by debt and funding cuts.

One happy patient sent 10 pizzas to the Whittington staff to thank them “for all their hard work”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that there would soon be an antibody test that could reveal if people had already had the virus, which in turn would probably make them immune from getting it twice.

“The great thing about having a test to see whether you’ve had it is suddenly a green light goes on above your head and you can go back to work safe and confident in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to get it again,” he said.

“So for an economic point of view, from a social point of view, it really could be a game-changer. You can really see the potential of that advance, which, as I say, is coming down the track.”

Meanwhile, at UCLH, a hospital whose intake includes patients from Islington, has confirmed six people have died there after positive tests since the crisis began.

Unison union rep Janet Maiden told the Tribune that NHS teams were already feeling stretched.

“People are running on adrenaline alone and that adrenaline is going to run out soon.

“You can’t actually live on being called ‘a hero’,” she said.

“People can’t sustain working six-day weeks like this, especially if they get ill themselves. They are called heroes but they are people with normal families.”

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