CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Rich pay £375 for coronavirus test while nurses and patients go without

Whittington staff get sent pizza by thankful patients

19 March, 2020 — By Tom Foot

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

Questions are 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 on social media about their testing positive for the virus, others are having to make to do with guesswork and guidance to stay in doors for 14 days.

The government announced yesterday (Wednesday) 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 sure it was just seasonal but did not know because of lack of testing and had to isolate from work. 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.”

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

“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.

Covid-19 staff protocol for treating patients at the Royal Free, seen by the New Journal, 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 that has put an unprecedented strain on a service decimated by debt and funding cuts.

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

Jim Mansfield, chairman of UNISON for staff at the Royal Free Hospital, said: “As far as how the Trust is managing the virus is concerned, they are doing the best they can in the changing circumstances as well as looking after staff and their welfare. Management are in constant contact with the trade unions about the issue and there are very comprehensive intranet pages on all issues surrounding Covid-19.”

The Royal Free board has cancelled its next two meetings, scheduled for March and April.

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