Can the government’s Covid strategy be any more reckless than it already is? For hundreds of thousands of health workers, the likely answer is, “yes”.
Infections and hospitalisations across Britain have recently soared to peaks not seen since the height of the pandemic. Yet within a few days, the department of health will axe free testing kits for the vast majority of people. Even those on the medical frontlines—NHS and care home workers—could be forced to buy their own Covid tests on the open market.
The news came just before Office for National Statistics announced on Friday that Covid cases in Britain have rocketed by around a million in a week. The number of infections soared to 4.26 million in the seven days to 19 March. That’s up 30 percent on the week before and just short of the 4.3 million in the first week of 2022, which was the highest total since estimates began.
Scotland is in the grip of its biggest surge to date, with one in 11 Scots infected over the seven-day period. In England and Wales, one in 16 people were infected,
Yet the employers’ NHS Confederation this week admitted that health workers may be forced to pay about £50 a month out of their meagre salaries for tests. And, with testing kits quickly running out as people attempt to stockpile for the disaster set to come, private firms stand ready to cash in.
Need to test yourself before starting a shift on a ward full of vulnerable patients? A single lateral flow test will be £2.82 plus postage, please. Going to visit elderly relatives and need more certainty? Boots, the high street chemist, will happily sell you a PCR testing kit for a laboratory-confirmed result for just £62, or four for £234.
The result of the Tories’ “herd immunity plus vaccination” strategy is already bearing fruit. Staff absences in NHS hospitals in England due to Covid this week jumped by more than 30 percent—the biggest increase since the start of the year.
Some 2 percent of the total workforce were absent each day of last week, either because they were sick with Covid or they were self-isolating.
The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) director for England, Patricia Marquis, said the new figures showed that the pressure on nursing staff in every region was worsening. “The British government is offering scant comfort. Yesterday’s spring statement did nothing to address the tens of thousands of vacant nursing posts in the long term.
“Cases are rising and more uncertainty looms with free community testing set to end this month. Employers must ensure nursing staff have continued access to testing and high quality protective PPE equipment.”
And it’s not just healthcare that’s taking a hit from the government’s phasing out of all safety measures. The number of pupils in state schools in England that were absent due to Covid last week has more than tripled in a fortnight.
Figures from the Department of Education this week showed 202,000 pupils in England were off school on 17 March because of the virus. That’s a massive jump from the 58,000 figure recorded two weeks earlier. Almost 1 in 10 school staff were also off with Covid on the same day.
But the worst is yet to come. When free testing ends for all but the most vulnerable next week we will have little or no idea of how many people are infected.
People with minor symptoms, ones that could be confused with a common cold, will be expected to come to work as normal. Once there, they will potentially spread the disease to people that are far more susceptible to serious illness.
In those circumstances, the only figures we will be able to count on are the numbers in hospital and the numbers that have died.
But for health secretary Sajid Javid it’s all going swimmingly. Responding to the new wave of infections last week, he said there’s “no particular cause for concern”.
An independent inquiry into Essex NHS mental health services has found that at least 1,500 patients died within their care or shortly after discharge.
The shocking report looked at unexplained and unexpected deaths of patients over a 21-year period.
The cases involve highly vulnerable children, young people and adults.
Dr Geraldine Strathdee, who is leading the inquiry, said some of the evidence included “unacceptable examples of behaviours that families believe contributed to the death of their loved ones”.
In her initial findings Strathdee found serious concerns about patients’ physical, mental and sexual safety while on a ward. She also reported evidence of big differences in the quality of care patients received—in both safe attitudes and the use of effective treatments.
Inquest, the campaigning charity that investigates deaths in residential mental health care, said the deaths amounted to “a national scandal”.
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