In case you missed it last night, the senior official credited with the early success of the Covid vaccine rollout in England is returning to the NHS to resume her role overseeing the programme, months after leaving to become the head of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street delivery unit.
Emily Lawson is ending her secondment at No 10 to return to NHS England amid concern that the rollout of booster jabs in England is flagging.
Lawson had joined No 10 to head up the delivery unit the prime minister set up to try to ensure that government policy commitments in key areas were being turned into action. She said:
The next phase of the vaccination programme is extremely important. We know that the vaccine is helping us to save lives and so we must focus all of our efforts on rolling out the booster campaign to everyone eligible, as well as ensuring that everyone who has not yet had their first jab, including young people, gets the chance to come forward.
Health officials should have known about major failings at a private Covid testing lab within days of the problem arising, rather than taking weeks to shut down operations at the site, senior scientists say.
Immensa Health Clinic’s laboratory in Wolverhampton is believed to have wrongly told about 43,000 people, most of them in south-west England, that they did not have the virus in a debacle described as one of the worst scandals in the UK’s Covid crisis.
The affected swabs were processed from 2 September, but neither Immensa’s own quality control processes nor oversight from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) raised the alarm before concerned members of the public complained, triggering a formal investigation.
“In the long list of Covid disasters and scandals, this is pretty near the top,” said Alan McNally, a professor in microbial evolutionary genomics at the University of Birmingham, who helped set up the Lighthouse Covid testing lab at Milton Keynes. He said:
You shouldn’t be relying on anecdotal reports to spot a problem of this size. That’s the unforgivable thing about this.
I don’t think it’s going too far to say that an absolute failure of quality in that lab is going to lead to very serious illnesses, maybe hospitalisations, and maybe worse.
The UKHSA suspended work at the Immensa lab on 12 October, at least three weeks after academics and others raised concerns about discrepancies in regional Covid test data.
The failure has prompted calls for the government to publish its contract with Immensa, transfer as much testing as possible to NHS and university labs, and establish more stringent oversight of the hundreds of private companies that have rushed into the Covid testing business, often without any track record of delivering critical clinical tests.
Local public health chiefs in England are breaking from the government’s official guidance and recommending so-called plan B protective measures to combat a surge in coronavirus cases.
At least a dozen directors of public health (DPHs) have called on residents in their areas to readopt protective measures such as mask-wearing and working from home.
The government is likely to face questions over why local authority public health experts feel it necessary to break from the official national guidance.
Alice Wiseman, the DPH for Gateshead who is among the health leaders to call for changes, said:
Given the concerning rise in case numbers and the considerable pressures that we’re already seeing on NHS services, now is the time for us all to do whatever we can to avoid reaching crisis point. Taking basic precautions now like wearing face masks, working from home where possible and keeping indoor spaces well ventilated could help us to avoid returning to more disruptive restrictions.
So although mandatory measures are not yet being introduced, I’d urge all of our communities to pull together and take these simple but effective steps now. They’re actions which cause minimal inconvenience for individuals but collectively will make a big difference in reducing the spread of Covid, flu and other seasonal illnesses – which, together, could stretch our NHS beyond its limit.
Wiseman has written to headteachers in the local authority area recommending they take additional measures at their schools when pupils return from the half-term break, including all adults and pupils wearing face coverings in secondary schools.
She also recommends reintroducing class bubbles in primary schools and year group bubbles in secondary schools.