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Covid-19: One in four NHS doctors off sick or in isolation

Amged El-Hawrani, the consultant has become the first frontline NHS hospital worker to die after testing positive for coronavirus. Pic by Hospitals Derby and Burton

By Jane Kirby and David Hughes, PA

Around one in four NHS doctors are off work sick or in isolation, the head of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has said, as a leading expert revealed there were signs of a slowdown in Covid-19 hospital admissions.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, told the PA news agency that about 25% of the doctor workforce is off, either with coronavirus or because a family member or housemate is ill.

“At the moment, we think it’s more doctors self-isolating with family members, though there are some off sick themselves,” he said.

“This is really impacting a lot in emergency departments and London is in a much worse position than elsewhere at the moment, but it will come to other places.

“Birmingham is also struggling.”

Prof Goddard said hospital wards across England “are going from normal wards to Covid wards very quickly”.

Asked about the pressure on intensive care units, Prof Goddard told PA: “Some hospitals are really at the limit. Within London it’s very, very difficult at the moment, you can’t underestimate how difficult it is.”

He said it was unclear whether the 25% off work would be a “rolling number” or whether it could ease as testing of NHS staff increases and people come out of isolation.

“Of course the worry is we will lose more people to Covid-related illness,” he added.

It comes after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said on Sunday that around one in five nurses had taken time off work to self-isolate.

Meanwhile, Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London and author of a report which warned of mass deaths if the UK did not introduce strict controls, said there were signs the rate of hospital admissions was slowing.

It comes as Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, became the latest in Westminster to self-isolate after developing symptoms.

He joins Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, who are all in self-isolation due to Covid-19.

Prof Ferguson said social distancing measures brought in by the Government appeared to be having an effect on the numbers.

“In the UK we can see some early signs of slowing in some indicators – less so deaths because deaths are lagged by a long time from when measures come in force,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“But if we look at the numbers of new hospital admissions, that does appear to be slowing down a bit now.

“It has not yet plateaued, so still the numbers can be increasing each day but the rate of that increase has slowed.”

Prof Ferguson said the epidemic was spreading at different rates in different parts of the country, but across the UK perhaps 2% or 3% of the population had been infected.

Elsewhere, Public Health England (PHE) announced that almost 11,000 coronavirus tests a day can now be carried out even though a health minister suggested just 7,000 were actually performed on Sunday.

PHE tweeted that “testing capacity for patient care” was 10,949 a day. The latest figure for the daily number of Covid-19 tests conducted in the UK is 9,114, as of 9am on Saturday.

The Government had set a target of carrying out 10,000 tests a day by Sunday.

Mr Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove both declared on Sunday morning that the 10,000 figure had been reached.

But Care Minister Helen Whately told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The actual number that was tested on the day in question (Sunday) was I think around 7,000.

“But within the next three weeks we expect to get to 25,000 tests a day.”

On Monday, University College London (UCL) announced that a breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care has been developed by mechanical engineers, medics and the Mercedes Formula One team.

The device, known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help coronavirus patients and bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and the need for full ventilation.

The device has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and could be rolled out to UK hospitals.

On Sunday, England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said measures on social distancing in the UK could last for at least six months.

She said the nation will not be in “complete lockdown” for half a year but said measures will be lifted gradually.

A sudden lifting, she said, could see the nation’s sacrifices “wasted” with another spike in deaths, which have reached 1,228 in UK hospitals.

In a video message from within his flat above No 11 on Sunday, the PM praised 20,000 former NHS staff who have returned to the service to tackle the pandemic.

“One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society,” Mr Johnson added.

The NHS also announced the death of 55-year-old consultant Amged El-Hawrani at Queen’s Hospital Burton. He died on Saturday.

He joins other medics who have lost their lives, including London-based surgeon Dr Adil El Tayar who died on Wednesday, and GP Habib Zaidi, who died in intensive care at Southend Hospital, Essex, also on Wednesday, from suspected coronavirus.

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