Our ‘world beating’ test and trace system is an unforgiveable shambles

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Tuesday 22 September 2020 15:04
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Boris Johnson says restrictions could remain in place for at least 6 months

Matt Hancock’s “I’m here to keep the country safe” is a mockery. We are looking at further unnecessary deaths. The NHS Test and Trace, our only protection from lockdown, is an unforgivable shambles.  

Even if there were enough tests, the national system simply cannot control outbreaks by waiting for symptomatic individuals to come forward. Most of the infectious are asymptomatic, unable or unwilling to be tested, falsely negative, or not reached. Most of the few contacts identified will be untraced, unwilling or will fail to isolate. We probably are at less than 10 per cent and falling.

We need a local service based on targeted testing, early diagnosis using risk factors with symptoms and the use of testing as a supplement, not a starting point. We need professional assessment, GP involvement and sustained support with audit of the real outcome, which is effective control of outbreaks.  

The minister needs to admit his mistake and move resources from a failed privatised venture to established local services including general practice.

Dr Bing Jones

On behalf of Sheffield Community Contact Tracers

A worthwhile investment

Back in May, the chancellor told us that his furlough scheme was costing the taxpayer £14bn a month, with a further £14bn on grants for small firms and £10bn support for the self-employed.

Now a second wave is approaching, bringing more draconian lockdowns and threatening many firms and jobs, and our vital testing system is failing and not predicted to be fit for purpose for weeks.

Didn’t anyone wonder whether our total bill would have been reduced had a single one of those billions been spent instead on rapidly establishing a genuinely “world beating” testing system with a high probability of working?

This isn’t new technology, and the UK has sufficient total laboratory capacity: it just needs unified and decisive management, efficient logistics, and sufficient resources, and surely £1bn would have been enough?

That would seem to have been a worthwhile bet at the time, on health, economic and civil libertarian grounds.

Mark Farrington

Cambridge

A snapshot in time

The test for the Covid virus is only relevant to the time and date the test swab was taken.

One can contract the virus whilst waiting in the queue to have the test or whilst having a night out to celebrate the test being negative.

What is the real value of the test? Is it just to reassure the population that something is being done?

Michael Pate

Preston

Out of touch

I found this rather hard to take. Matt Hancock, a cabinet minister, and after all the years of Conservatives applying austerity, announces with the £500 isolation payment that he “does not want anyone to have to worry about their finances while doing the right thing”.

What planet is this guy on?

William Park

St Annes

Mental health concerns

Mental health services have long been underfunded. People with mental illnesses and their families still suffer.  

Many of the places mental health services are delivered in are not fit for purpose, can be unsafe and so unwelcoming they have been compared to prisons. They have been repeatedly overlooked for funding.

A pandemic arrived, exposing this long-running neglect. Yet again people with mental illness have suffered further.

Covid is going nowhere. Demand for mental health services is rising and no additional funding has been allocated to meet this. Stretched services are under even more strain and aren’t designed for infection control. The same people lose out.    

Without further support, promises to expand mental health provision will be broken and services will struggle to keep pace with Covid infection control and tackle unmet, pent-up demand.  

Ensuring a decent package of social care funding for people with mental illness and their carers makes the difference between someone enjoying a fulfilling, independent life and someone who is unsupported, relapsing back into hospital.  

The need to promote better health and prevent poor mental and physical health has never been stronger. Hard-pressed local authorities must be equipped with protected funding to do this.  

We cannot continue to overlook people with mental illness and their families.

We need cross-government action to protect people’s mental health and the government must use the Comprehensive Spending Review to level up this injustice and provide a fair package to build better mental health.  

Sean Duggan, chief executive, Mental Health Network, NHS Confederation 

Paul Farmer, chief executive, Mind 

Sarah Hughes, chief executive, Centre for Mental Health 

Dr Adrian James, president, Royal College of Psychiatrists 

Mark Rowland, chief executive, Mental Health Foundation 

Mark Winstanley, chief executive, Rethink Mental Illness

Herd immunity?

Kim Sneppen, professor of biocomplexity at Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute and an expert in the spread of the coronavirus, concludes Sweden is beating the pandemic with herd immunity rather than lockdowns. It relied on voluntary social distancing, kept schools and businesses open, with the result that its economy shrank by 7 per cent during the pandemic compared to our catastrophic 20 per cent.

Sweden’s infection rate has remained low and stable at a time when other European countries are facing a strong resurgence. In Britain there are 70 cases per 100,000 people compared to just 25 for every 100,000 in Sweden. The infection rate in France is almost seven times higher than in Sweden and the virus is ten times more prevalent in Spain – both countries had strict lockdowns.

A recent study suggests an infection rate of 40 per cent could be sufficient to give herd immunity. In fact just 20 per cent immunity makes a big difference because those infected at the start of the epidemic were the most susceptible. It’s a pity Boris Johnson didn't keep his nerve and follow the Swedes when Neil Ferguson unleashed his crazy statistics suggesting half a million deaths in the UK.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

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