One million members of the public could be sent antibody test kits to check if they ever had coronavirus within a couple of weeks, health officials said.
Public Health England has warned that about a third of people who host the virus – who may be able to transmit it – can never develop symptoms. They admitted that “asymptomatic” hospital staff could fuel the spread of the disease due to lack of basic protective equipment.
On Thursday, the NHS medical director announced an urgent overhaul of the provision of personal protective equipment in the UK and said he expected it to be “critical” in many respects, including failure to properly distribute it through the service.
Doctors said they felt “slaughter lambs”, with many sent to treat patients with the virus without any protection.
NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens reported that 4,300 coronavirus patients are now in hospital, including around 2,000 in London. He said the health service is now facing an even greater threat from World War II while fighting the pandemic.
Officials have already said that 3.5 million tests that determine whether a person has ever had the disease will be prioritized for key workers, including those working in hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
But Thursday they said they hope to quickly move on to making mailing kits much more widely available, which could mean deliveries via Amazon.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director, Public Health England, told the health and social committee: “There is a plan for one million tests, which people can do on their own. One million tests for members of the public. In others words, they will make him able to do a blood test, send it back in the mail and analyze it.
“This is an antibody test that tells you if you have had a condition. This is absolutely critical for two reasons: understanding what’s going on, but also allowing people to get back to work.
“It is now very advanced, but not yet ready. We must be sure that it is an absolutely valid test. We expect it to arrive within a couple of weeks, but I would not want to promise too much.”
He said scientists were still trying to assess the risks posed by those who carried the virus who showed no signs of it, adding: “We think about 30% of people could be in that category – they hosted the virus – but that that we don’t know if they can transmit adequately or effectively. “
Health officials have been repeatedly questioned about the risks faced by doctors and nurses, many of whom have been left without personal protective equipment (PPE) and without tests to see if they have the virus.
NHS Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis acknowledged a lack of confidence in the government’s handling of the situation, with Britain’s use of this kit – and the use of masks and gloves in situations where other countries use Hazmat full equipment – contrasting it with recommendations from the World Health Organization.
He said at a meeting of the board of the NHS England: “The government’s chief scientific adviser, the chief doctor and I have, on the last day, asked for an independent quick review to give us confidence … and the trust of the public that we are really using a high level guide.
“I expect that report to be available within the next day or two, and I think it will be critical of a number of other things like the supply chain.”
On Thursday, the death toll in the United Kingdom increased by 115, with 578 deaths in total, compared to 463 the previous day.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, president of the British Medical Association, had previously said that the union was “overwhelmed by doctors’ anxieties” due to the lack of PPE on the ground.
“When we call the helpline we are told to buy them on our own; that’s the advice we are getting,” he said.
He also raised concerns about “the adequacy of protection”, with doctors claiming that the masks and aprons they received did not protect them sufficiently.
MEPs from the Health and Social Assistance Committee of Municipalities have repeatedly expressed frustration over the lack of testing in the UK.
PHE officials promised to run 25,000 tests per day by the end of April and to reach 12,000 per day by Monday. However, only 6,643 were made on Thursday. The World Health Organization has urged all countries to “test, test, test” in the war on the pandemic.
Labor MP Rosie Cooper said that SSN workers and members of the public were “horrified” by the British approach to the virus, saying that the government “has lost control of it and is completely overwhelmed.”
“What bit of” test, test, test “did we not get?” he asked when officials said the fault was the lack of test capability rather than the lack of money.
The professor. Doyle also revealed that 98% of those who died of Covid-19 in the UK had basic health conditions. “Right now, it’s very rare for people who don’t have other conditions to die,” he said.
Previously, Chris Hopson, managing director of national health service providers, said that up to 50% of doctors in some hospitals are unemployed because of self-isolation.