The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

Coronavirus update

Ahead of an expected surge of covid-19 patients requiring intensive care in the next few weeks, trusts are doing all they can to secure enough staff.

Two trusts have turned to other sources to fill gaps. HSJ has revealed Torbay and South Devon Foundation Trust approached local veterinary groups asking for volunteers to become “respiratory assistants” who could act as ICU medics’ “eyes and ears”.

Further north, Hampshire Hospitals FT has created a “bedside support worker” role, which will include — among others — vets and dentists.

The public response to help the NHS has been fantastic to see, but plans such as these capture perfectly the lengths to which the health service is going to prepare for the pandemic’s peak.

Meanwhile, it was inevitable that ambulance response times would suffer during the covid-19 crisis, not least because of the extra pressure put on services by an increasing number of calls.

But the size of the drop in performance in March was bigger than many had expected. Response times to category two calls — which are those classified as an emergency but not immediately life-threatening — jumped to 32:06 minutes in March compared with 22:07 minutes in February and against an 18-minute target time. 

Ambulances are not the only thing in demand. With covid-19 deaths in the England now sadly in the thousands, the crisis also means more body bags are needed and trust procurement leads are scrambling to locate more, as central supplies run short.

Although Public Health England says body bags aren’t needed to transport deceased covid-19 patients safely, it accepts there might be “practical” reasons for using them. 

However, at Wednesday’s daily briefing, health chiefs offered some — cautious — optimism lockdown measures may be working.

Angela McLean, the government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, said the number of hospitalised covid-19 patients was “definitely getting slower” and the virus was not “accelerating out of control”.

Data showed the number of covid-19 patients in critical care had risen only 4 per cent in 24 hours, having increased by 52 per cent in the previous seven days.