THE Government will "stop at nothing to get protective gear to NHS front line staff", according to the Health Secretary.
Matt Hancock, who has today ended his own self-isolation after suffering Covid-19 symptoms, committed to getting medics "the right equipment".
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Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock said: "I come back redoubled in my determination to fight this virus with everything I’ve got.
"I’ll stop at nothing to make sure that frontline staff have the right equipment so they are safe."
It follows an outcry over a lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) – including masks, gloves, gowns and goggles – on the NHS frontline.
There have even been cases where medics, care facilities and hospitals have been forced to buy their own PPE due to the international shortage.
Some say they have even been threatened with reprisals if they speak out about concerns.
It prompted 5,000 doctors to sign a letter saying they feel like "lambs to the slaughter" and "cannon fodder" due to the shortage.
In response, the Government has today strengthened its PPE guidance covering NHS workers in hospitals, GP and dental surgeries, and those working in care homes and delivering care to people's homes.
It says that when staff are providing direct patient care within two metres to somebody with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, they should wear appropriate kit.
Previously, the kit was only required if staff were working within one metre of a confirmed or suspected case.
The guidance stresses that when "the potential risk to health and social care workers cannot be established" before caring for a patient, then aprons, surgical masks, eye protection and gloves should be worn.
In primary care, the guidance stops short of recommending GPs use PPE for all patient contacts but suggests this may be necessary depending on "local risk assessment".
GP receptionists talking to people within two metres are urged to wear a disposable mask.
The guidance makes no changes to the actual kit to be worn in hospitals, stressing that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the guidance as meeting its standards.
The new guidance says that while gloves and aprons should be disposed of after a single use, masks and eye protection can be used for a session of work.
Gowns can also be worn for a session of work in higher risk areas, it says.
The UK-wide guidance has been agreed by the UK's four chief medical officers, chief nursing officers and chief dental officers in the UK.
It says WHO recommends the use of FFP2 masks for aerosol-generating procedures, such as dental drilling, intubating patients and surgery, but "the UK has gone further and recommends the use of FFP3 masks".
But FFP2 masks can be used if FFP3 masks are unavailable.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England said: "Protecting our NHS colleagues on the frontline is vitally important.
Our standards are amongst the highest in the world and in line with what the WHO recommends
"This updated guidance provides a greater degree of clarity so that NHS clinicians caring for patients feel confident in the PPE they need to wear.
"Our standards are amongst the highest in the world and in line with what WHO recommends in circumstances and settings with the highest risk of transmission."
As part of the review, the Health and Safety Executive concluded that aprons offer a similar level of protection to the gowns recommended by WHO and that FFP2 respirators offer protection against Covid-19.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: "We cannot underestimate the loss of confidence among key frontline staff on this issue – today's guidance is badly needed and we very much hope this will be an important step towards rebuilding trust.
"Apart from the detail, two points are critical – it has the support of WHO, and it has been produced with input from infection control experts across the UK, and from the medical royal colleges, trade unions and professional organisations."
But he said "guidance is not the whole answer," adding "there have been real problems with distribution, and we have been assured they are being addressed and, to be fair, in many places that is happening.
"But any remaining supply chain problems need to be dealt with without delay.
"We have been promised Amazon-style distribution will be up and running in days, enabling every GP surgery, care home and hospital to order what they need and receive their delivery fast."
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), said: "It is four days since the minister Robert Jenrick gave the assurance that no frontline staff should be working without the right protective equipment.
"Yet this week the BMA has received concerns from doctors in over 30 hospital trusts about inadequate PPE supplies and GPs across England who are yet to receive eye protection.
"Doctors are being put in a harrowing position. Faced with a national emergency, they stand committed to meet the immense challenges that lay ahead and to save lives.
"However, the lack of PPE provision is not only risking the health of doctors but also of them becoming vectors of infection and potentially turning them into super-spreaders, carrying the virus to non-Covid 19 patient after patient."
It comes as 2,921 people were confirmed to have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Wednesday.
The youngest person who died without underlying health conditions was aged 25.
The total is up by 569 from 2,352 the day before and is the biggest day-on-day increase so far, just above the 563 reported the day before.
Coronavirus testing: What is the difference between antigen and antibody tests?
Coronavirus tests are key to getting a clearer idea of the scale of the outbreak in the UK and grasp a handle on it.
In recent days, there's been a lot of talk about the two different types of tests that the government are ramping up.
The government refers to them as the 'have you got it' antigen test or the 'have you had it' antibody test.
Here we explain the difference between the two…
What is an antigen test?
Antigens are found on the surface of invading pathogens, including coronavirus.
Testing for antigens can determine whether someone is currently carrying the virus and are actively infectious.
The NHS is currently using antigen tests in hospitals to determine if someone is currently infected with Covid-19.
Samples are taken using a swab – which resemble a large cotton bud – from deep inside the nose and throat before being sent off to a lab for testing.
Most labs use a method called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes several hours to get a result.
It can take days for labs to run the tests and tell people their result.
Several companies are working on ways to fast track this type of testing.
What is an antibody test?
When a person gets infected with antigen, the body starts making specially designed proteins called antibodies in response – as a way to fight the infection.
After they recover, those antibodies float in the blood for months, maybe even years.
That's the body's way of defending itself in case it becomes infected with the virus again.
So an antibody test specifically looks for antibodies which will be able to tell whether you've already been exposed to Covid-19.
Anyone who has already had the illness is presumed to be immune to getting it again – at least, in the intermediate term.
This would allow them to go back to work safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to become infected again or pass the virus on.
The check that has been developed for Covid-19 is a finger-prick blood test, with the samples sent to laboratories and results available within a few days.
Dr Hilary Jones, a GP and resident doctor on Good Morning Britain, explained that it works "almost like a pregnancy test, except you need a drop of blood".
These tests are being developed by several different firms and Public Health England (PHE) is also working on its own test.
They still need to be validated to ensure they give accurate results.
Meanwhile, Number 10 said work was ongoing with nine potential suppliers on developing an antibody test which would show whether people have had the virus.
Such a test would enable people to get back to work quickly and some experts say this type of testing is the quickest way out of the current lockdown.
The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "We are working as quickly as we can on that and as soon as a test is approved then we will announce it publicly."
He said the Government had previously been offered tests that had not met the required levels of accuracy "and therefore would not have been safe to use".
It was also suggested that immunity certificates to identify people who have had coronavirus are being considered by the Government.
The Prime Minister's spokesman said this had been discussed in other countries and the UK was watching what happened closely.
This follows fierce criticism of the policy on testing, with the UK only hitting a target of 10,000 tests per day in the last few days.
The latest testing figures show 10,657 tests were carried out on Tuesday, the Department of Health tweeted.
Some 2,800 NHS staff have now been tested for coronavirus at drive-in facilities.
Professor Paul Cosford, former medical director of Public Health England (PHE), admitted "everybody involved is frustrated" by the low number of tests being carried out.
He pointed to ongoing capacity issues and said the "core priority" until now has been testing hospital patients with suspected Covid-19.
PHE's focus has been on NHS testing laboratories, while other work is now being led by the Office for Life Sciences to collaborate with universities and non-PHE labs, he said.
Prof Cosford said five drive-through NHS staff testing hubs are up and running, with "another four to come on stream this week".
Testing will hit 15,000 per day "imminently", he said, adding: "It will be 25,000 by the middle of April."
Work being led by the Office for Life Sciences "to look at a much broader set of universities, industry and other laboratories" will "give us another 100,000 or more tests per day", Prof Cosford continued.
"We've certainly not refused any help from any laboratories and we've talked to many about what might be possible, he said, but added: "We need to be very careful to make sure that the tests we use are tests that work."
Asked why it is taking so long to increase testing, Prof Cosford told Good Morning Britain: "This is an incredibly complex operation to put in place in a very short period of time."
He added that there is "24/7 work" going on to overcome "a whole range of issues" in ensuring testing is rolled out properly.
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