NHS Prepares for Flu Season with Vaccines and a New 20-Minute Test
While millions of people were urged to get their flu shot by the NHS, a new 20-minute test may help determine who has flu much quicker. This comes after NHS chief executive Chris Hopson warned that this winter is expected to be more severe than last year’s.
“The pressure on A&E services and the knock-on impact this is having in other parts of the health and care system,” he said in an interview with Telegraph, “coupled with higher levels of staff vacancies, will put services under significant strain this winter.”
Now, in addition to the end of the vaccine shortage NHS was having, the 20-minute throat swab test cobas Liat is being used at two NHS facilities. Though Public Health England has warned that there is not enough data to ensure that the test is consistently successful, the flu test has helped hospitals determine if the patient has the flu, treat the condition, discharge them more quickly, and free up beds for other patients.
Normally, the hospital has to send flu tests to a separate laboratory and the patient has to wait in the hospital for the results. This new test may change things. Instead of being unnecessarily isolated and waiting several days for their results, which affects bed management significantly, the patient’s throat swab can be analyzed by a machine on-site.
Both the arrival influenza vaccines and the new flu test are welcomed because winter’s flu season is difficult for NHS, an expert in medical negligence claims says, they are overwhelmed by flu patients. Furthermore, a fifth of NHS hospitals are missing their target wait-lists this year according to figures from the organization.
The BBC conducted an investigation and found that 29 out of 157 hospital trusts across the United Kingdom did not a single one of their targets for the last year. Performing worst were Northern and Wales, with all five of Northern Ireland’s trust failing to meet cancer and A&E routine operations in both 2017 and 2018 and Wales meeting none of their three key targets for at least the last five years. The last time any hospital met its targets was in Scotland in August 2017.
The flu vaccine may prevent influenza patients and the cobas Liat test will help treat them and clear out beds. Roche Diagnostics, the manufacturer of the test, said it could save the NHS as much as £24 million a year if it is implemented across the United Kingdom.
Still, Public Health England, infectious disease specialists, have said there is not enough “robust data” to call it a success as the manufactures have. There are many tests being rolled out onto the market, and though there have been benefits found by the pilot adopters, there has not been a national assessment to determine its effectiveness and cost benefits.
Roche Diagnostics says that the test can detect up to 40 different kinds of influenza and seven different kinds of respiratory viruses, the leading cause of respiratory disease.
Around 8.5 million flu vaccine doses have been ordered to the NHS, with a million surplus. With so many vaccines available, there is concern about people who show trepidation. Many people mistakenly believe that getting the flu shot gives them influenza. There were 1,027,075 healthcare professionals offered the vaccination last year, and only 706,075 of them received it. If one does get the flu after getting the vaccine, it is going to be milder. It is not that the vaccination itself gives them influenza. For these professionals, there is concern that they may carry the virus without symptoms and may give it to their patients.
The flu can be deadly, last year 15,000 people died of influenza.
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust began using the cobas Liat test in January, and found that 128 out of 277 tests over four months were positive, 46 percent. This lead to quicker diagnoses, and a drop of blocked beds from an average of 11 before the test to just two after.
Although other tests were not as successful—479 out of 1,526 tests came out positive at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation in London where there are many elderly people—Norfolk and Norwich said that the test could save them around £142,555 a year before the costs of test kits.