Welcome to the first edition of NHS Hot Topics! Every two weeks we dissect national and global health news that affects the NHS.
This week’s topics:
The novel coronavirus that originated in China has been a big feature in health news over the past several weeks. Now named Covid-19 by the WHO, the virus has spread outside of China across the world.
The number of cases has surpassed 45,000 and there have been over 1100 deaths. On 31st January the first 2 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK. There are a total of 9 known cases now, with some other UK citizens confirmed to have contracted the virus overseas.
2 cases are in York with a further 6 in Brighton linked to Steve Walsh, who contracted the coronavirus in Singapore. He is also thought to have infected a further 6 people in France before returning to the UK.
A conference centre in Milton Keynes and a hospital in Wirral have been designated as isolation facilities for anyone who may have the virus, such as those who have returned from Wuhan in China.
This recent increase in cases makes the prospect of an outbreak in the UK look more likely, with 2 prisoners in Oxfordshire currently being tested for the virus.
With no signs of the coronavirus abating globally, there is the possibility that rather than ending, this coronavirus epidemic is ramping up further.
If this has the possibility to become the next pandemic, the UK and its NHS must be prepared to mitigate this should it occur. Recently, it has been announced that the health secretary has been given new powers to force people in England into mandatory isolation if they present a risk of spreading the virus.
It is hoped that this will help to reduce or even stop new cases of Covid-19 in the UK. Every hospital in the UK had been ordered by the NHS to create coronavirus priority assessment pods, to be up and running by last Friday (7th February).
The aim of this is to direct those who think they may have the virus away from other patients waiting in A&E.
How does it impact the NHS?
Currently, the impact on the NHS has been small.
The spread of the coronavirus outside of China has been minimal and slow, however this recent increase in UK cases is cause for some concern. Treating patients with this novel infectious disease that currently has no treatment poses a new challenge.
NHS staff will need to deal with patients present at their local hospital and it is important that strategies are in place for this. With current staff shortages, this is an added pressure for a service already under a lot of stress.
The creation of the isolation pods is a good precaution to prevent the potential spread of the virus in a hospital. However there are arguments that this is currently not necessary, and that home isolation and specialist treatment centres work well.
There may also be an increase in A&E and GP attendances from those concerned they have contracted the virus, despite advice against doing so. People who believe they might have contracted the coronavirus are advised to call 111.
However, there is the possibility that this is just the beginning of what could be a global pandemic. Professor Ferguson, an infectious disease expert at Imperial, believes that we are in the early phase of a global pandemic and that only 1 in 3 cases of the virus coming to the UK are being detected.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs has also said that it could be several months before the end of this coronavirus epidemic. If this is the case the isolation pods and increased public health powers may be just the beginning of measures necessary to control and contain the spread of Covid-19 in the UK.
Question to think about: If you were the health secretary, what additional measures would you put in place to increase awareness and reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the UK?
Words by: Safiya Zaloum
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