NHS organisations asked to set up COVID-19 incident management teams
Author: Caroline White
All NHS organisations have been asked to set up COVID-19 incident management teams, operating seven days a week to ensure that services are adequately prepared to cope with an anticipated surge in cases of coronavirus infection.
Yesterday, as the government launched its battle plan for dealing with coronavirus, Professor Keith Willet, NHS strategic incident director, and Stephen Groves, incident director, at NHS England/Improvement, wrote to all NHS leaders, declaring the infection a Level 4 incident.
NHS organisations must now have “a single point of contact available 24/7 for liaison and coordination for all COVID-19 patient management, alerts, referrals and tracking. This is particularly important for receiving and acting on COVID-19 test results and should be available to NHSE/I [NHS England and NHS Improvement] regional teams, PHE [Public Health England], CCGs [clinical commissioning groups] and local providers,” said the letter.
Among the contingency measures suggested, the letter said that the use of remote consultations should be considered, where possible, while all care pathways, and particularly those supporting respiratory health, should be reviewed to consider the impact a surge in patient numbers might have on services and stocks.
Acute care providers should also review their critical care and high dependency beds with a view to considering how to increase capacity and the impact of doing so.
Any member of staff, including bank staff and sub-contractors, who has to be physically present at an NHS facility to carry out their duties, should receive full pay for any period in which they are required to self isolate as a result of public health advice, the letter stipulates.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that it was “likely we will move into onward transmission and an epidemic here in the UK,” with 1% of those affected dying as a result in the worst case scenario.
All people with severe pneumonia are currently being screened to check for coronavirus infection, he said.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has called into question the suggestion in yesterday’s government plan that retired clinicians could be drafted in to help out, saying that it needed “serious scrutiny.
Dr Helena McKeown, a chief officer at the BMA, added: “While some recently retired doctors may be able and willing to return to assist where they can, much will depend on what they are being asked to do.
“The wellbeing of these retired doctors, many of whom will be older themselves, must also be prioritised – they should not be putting their own health at risk by returning to work.”
But Professor Whitty said that this option would only be considered if additional resource was needed, “a point that we may not get to,” he said.
But should the need arise only those clinicians who have come off the active register in the past two three years, and whose level of practice is still current, would be eligible, he said.
“We would be quite careful to ensure that people were doing roles that were appropriate to their recent level of experience,” he said.
“But we have to be realistic that if the higher end of this epidemic happens, we are going to have to do a lot of things pretty differently, or very differently, for a relatively discrete period of time,” he insisted.
This period was likely to last only a few weeks, he suggested, “But in those few weeks, we may have to reconfigure the NHS quite profoundly,” he said.
Postponing elective surgery as well as “more radical measures” would all need to be considered, he said.