1. On PPE. From a Greater Manchester doctor working on a respiratory ward, unofficially renamed by staff the “Coronavirus Ward”, about protective equipment:

“It’s not so much whether there’s enough, it’s what’s being brought in is really poor quality and advice about what constitutes PPE  is changing daily. Loads of my colleagues have already tested positive…… that’s one good thing my hospital is really on it with testing staff.”

  1. From a Unison rep in NHS Greater Manchester:

“I am worried about members with diabetes, especially type 1. First of all they were listed in the ‘at risk’ group, not quite as at risk as the ‘vulnerable’ group, but who should still not be asked to work. Now they are being asked to go in. The responsibility has been put on them to observe the recommendations. They are sent on to wards where it is impossible to keep a 2m distance from patients, and PPE is still a problem.”

And “there are not enough tests for the virus. But it would be possible to identify people with symptoms, and teams could be recruited to monitor symptoms and track contacts. However this is not happening.”

  1. Care workers are also on the Frontline. From a care worker in Scotland who visits patients in their homes. She was very upset because she was not allowed to shop at the time reserved for NHS staff “because she had the wrong uniform”. She has been working double shifts for a month, and will be doing so until July, and at the same time doing shopping for some of her patients, elderly people unable to get out of the house and whose adult children live too far away to help. This has been made more difficult by not being treated as a frontline worker, especially as there are limited occasions when she can do shopping, given her extra workload. She points out she is risking her life and those of her family members, but not being treated as “frontline”.

 

  1. Terror of the Unknown. From another Greater Manchester doctor, a retired consultant: “I have been retraining, but will be back at work full time on Monday. The main thing I noticed last week was the atmosphere of fear amongst the staff. Our hospital are pretty organised, it seems to me, with training and equipment, but not unexpectedly, there is terror of the unknown.”

 

  1. Ventilators and Tory Donors. Andrew Raynor of MEC Medical submitted an application to help the government on 16th March, but “nothing” happened. They are a worldwide supplier of oxygen therapy, suction, flow meters, electric suction, regulators and more. Raynor said the government had, instead, “ploughed loads of money into big consortiums to try and make a cheap, makeshift ventilator”. He did not have a problem with the government wanting to make a cheaper ventilator, but pointed out that his firm was already a ventilator manufacturer, and could “upscale quicker”.

Instead, on 26 March, the BBC reported that the government had ordered 10,000 ventilators from the vacuum cleaner firm Dyson, which has no experience making the ventilators required. Dyson, working with medical technology firm, The Technology Partnership, has “hundreds of engineers working round the clock to design the ventilators from scratch.” The BBC commented that even if a suitable prototype was produced as a result, it still had to get regulatory approval, and move to production on a significant scale.

As an anaesthetist commented to us: “simple ventilators allow you to dial in the tidal volume (the amount of air moved into or out of the lungs during each ventilation cycle), the respiratory rate” and the concentration of oxygen being breathed in. The ventilators deliver all the breaths and can be used during surgery or for transferring patients.” That is, for short term ventilation.

But after several days on these ventilators, usually necessary for Covid-19 patients, “people develop wasting and loss of condition in the muscles responsible for breathing in. This means that patients need to be supported during this time, but support can be gradually reduced as they begin to recover muscle strength and can take progressively larger breaths. “They usually also need a temporary tracheostomy to reduce the amount of dead space, enabling lighter sedation and more effective breathing.”

However, the Dyson ventilators are very basic and do not allow for weaning of the ventilator. “But he’ll make a lot of money, get a peerage, and make it look like Matt Hancock is doing something.”

In contrast, “modern Intensive Care Unit ventilators are expensive and take ages to produce. Hancock just wanted a soundbite and a photo-opportunity. He passed over offers from established manufacturers to award contracts to big name companies like JCB and Dyson, with no experience of ventilator production, but owned by Tory donors.”

Our informant compares the finger-prick antibody tests that Hancock has ordered. “They are totally unreliable, with low sensitivity and specificity, but home testing makes for a good, eye-catching headline, even if it’s a waste of time and money. Hancock is a joke; he is surrounded by sycophants and yes-men at the DHSC.”

Obviously the production of much-needed ventilators is welcome. But the Government’s choice of manufacturers raises major questions about whether it has prioritised its friends and donors, rather than the specification of the ventilators needed.

Blog from Vivien Walsh

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