We need to #ActNOWSaveLives

Two weeks ago, a friend had a cough after returning from Gran Canaria. She rang 111 and was told not to worry as Gran Canaria was not on their list and she hadn’t come into contact with a confirmed case.

My first reaction was ‘She has been through an airport where people will be travelling form all over the world!’ In addition Gran Canaria then started showing cases so she could have been in contact with someone in their asymptomatic stage so how would she know?

From Twitter accounts, other people’s 111 experiences are similarly kafkaesque based on this advice (from the NHS 111 diagnostics tool):

NHS testing tool

It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. “Did you come in contact with a confirmed case? (No bcs they weren’t tested). Then, No we can’t advise/ test you”. Next person “ditto.”

This person travelled back from Thailand and had obvious flu like symptoms. He was told by 111 he should have a test but suffered delay after delay. I don’t want to panic anyone but this really needs to improve. Countries that acted rapidly have saved lives. South Korea slowed contagion rate by using various measures which included “education, transparency and mobilizing civil society……South Korea’s most effective weapon against the virus has been to rapidly expand testing.”

It is unlikely my friend has Coronavirus as her symptoms were mainly a cough and no fever (cf List of symptoms) but as her ‘bug’ spread to others in her circle, it emphasised to me how quickly viruses can spread and also alerted me to the contents of the 111 advice. I would have thought people with mild symptoms (especially if they have travelled) could be advised to reduce social contact to a minimum and if possible self isolate. Maybe that will happen now it is known that mild symptoms can still be highly infectious.

There has been some good news. Today it has been announced they are increasing test capacity so let’s hope things improve.

The reason fast and rigorous action is important is that every day matters in a pandemic. The WHO are warning us that we are facing a pandemic and are describing levels of inaction across the world as ‘alarming’.

Many of us have felt alarmed about inaction.  For example, the report of people walking through Gatwick airport on returning from ‘locked down’ zones of Italy without so much as a leaflet or a text message.

The stories are showing that we are on the back foot, too much is being left to individuals.  We have a chance to reduce the suffering if we act now. Hopefully today we will see firm action.

This informative (but long) article shows us that time really does matter. Some of us on Twitter are trying to get the hashtag #ActNOWSaveLives trending in order to lean on those in power who can make these systematic decisions. Scroll down to Chart 23 (in the link) which shows in startling clarity that one day of social distancing measures can make a significant difference when it comes to saving lives in this pandemic.

Decreasing contagion is clearly important but so is slowing the rate of contagion. This is to prevent health care systems from getting overwhelmed so that those with the disease (and other diseases) can be well treated. The hashtag #FlattenTheCurve on Social Media is about another graph comparing inaction with successful contagion control measures. The numbers of cases might be the same overall but the health systems can cope if contagion rate is slowed. This will save lives. (CT Bergstrom has kindly given permission for people to share this graph widely)

Flatten the crve 1

In the UK, this is playing out in the context of a PM who is frankly behaving like the leader of a rogue regime. Boris Johnson recently bragged about shaking hands with coronavirus patients. This turned out to be untrue – the patients did not have coronavirus.

It is genuinely dystopian having our own PM spreading fake news when those lies (and indeed lack of responsibility and mixed messaging, counter to our own NHS) could and probably will cost lives.

You may have seen the clip on Social media where Boris Johnson said ‘take it on the chin’ This is the transcript of the interview https://fullfact.org/health/boris-johnson-coronavirus-this-morning/

So he was not advocating taking it on the chin but why even mention it as theory? Whose theory?!  The ‘theory’ of ‘taking it on the chin’ is the first peak on that graph above…the ‘doing nothing’ peak as opposed to the ‘with measures in place’ flattened peak. The doing nothing peak is a healthcare system in total and utter crisis. Jason Van Schoor describes what that can look like and is happening now in parts of Italy.

So instead of mentioning a ‘death'(i.e. doing nothing) theory, he could have filled that minute of broadcasting time with ‘This is what individuals can do; This is what we as a government are doing; This is what the NHS is doing and we are supporting them to do it’. Wouldn’t that have been the responsible thing to do?

Listening to people’s worries about the elderly and vulnerable, I wrote this tweet:

“Old people matter. Health care workers matter. Carers matter. People with chronic and acute health conditions matter. People who can’t self isolate easily due to their manual or gig economy contracts matter……and all those who can’t #TakeItOnTheChin matter #NotMyPM”

Here’s a personal story. My mum is in a care home. She has dementia (along with angina and high blood pressure controlled by medications).She is happy. She lights up my life and I see her regularly. Since she has been in the care home, she has had to go to hospital twice, once for a suspected fracture. For a few moments in her x-ray, I had to leave her. As I left, there was visceral, acute terror in her eyes and she said to me “Don’t leave me! I want my Mum!” I vowed, I would never leave her alone in hospital. I would never submit her to her own terror that is held at bay by familiarity and by being with people who know and love her. Discussing the coronavirus, the care home manager told me they would not send people to hospital. I burst into tears with relief. I genuinely felt humbled by the conversation with the Care Manager who sees her work as a vocation and will not abandon the ship..but there are still sleepless nights worrying about how they would cope and if I would see Mum if anyone, including her got the virus.

I think of other older or vulnerable people (some of whom with dementia) who would be quarantined and alone in severe illness or death. What we do now is not just about saving lives, it’s also about preventing trauma for individuals, their loved ones and the staff who care for them.

So that is why clear, consistent messaging is important. It’s why an organised, accessible screening program needs to be up and running quickly. It is why social distancing protocols should be in place already.

Thank you for making it this far into my long post. Those of you on social media, please support the #ActNOWSaveLives campaign by messaging your MP and media contacts with the hashtag. I wish you well.