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Coronavirus update

While some parts of the country are now working flat out to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, other parts are experiencing something of a calm before the storm.

Public Health England data has revealed emergency department attendences have dropped by around a third over the last fortnight. At the same time, there are reports of many more medically stable patients being discharged from hospital than usual and some elective care is being cancelled, meaning those sites without many covid-19 cases are left with much less work than usual. 

One acute chief executive in the north of England reported they had many more unoccupied beds than usual, while another, in the Midlands, said: “For the majority of our staff it has never been as quiet, there are many with not a lot to do.” 

Meanwhile, NHS England has brought forward plans to roll out a version of a digital staff “passport” due to the coronavirus outbreak.

First unveiled last September, the employee passport is designed to help staff move between organisations more effectively in a bid to improve retention and cut admin costs.

A lot has changed since then and, with the health service in the middle of a national crisis, a version of it will now be trialled “in the coming weeks”.

Further details are limited but a successful trial in unprecedented circumstances could see similar innovations rolled out in the future.

But staffing is far from the only problem the NHS is battling at the moment. Personal protective equipment was labelled “clearly a cause of significant concern” at this week’s NHSE board meeting.

Public Health England’s equipment guidance has been developing in response to the crisis. During the teleconferenced meeting on Thursday, NHSE national medical director Stephen Powis revealed an urgent independent review would also assess the situation. 

This review will aim to make sure PPE not only meets international standards but, “where it’s appropriate”, exceeds it. While “tens of millions of gloves” and “millions of facemasks” are being delivered to hospitals, leaders will undoubtedly be waiting anxiously to give staff a confident answer on how to stay safe as patient numbers climb over the coming weeks.

And on ventilators, NHSE has responded to local questions about how the scarce supply will be rationed out — but not in the way many hospitals outside of major urban centres would want.