South Wales health board ‘unable to test hospital patients it suspected had Covid-19’
A senior health official on a board overseeing one of the worst-hit areas of the UK for coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic has said it was unable to test hospital patients it suspected had the killer virus.
Dr Sarah Aitken (pictured), interim medical director of the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in South Wales, said that until March 9 only patients who were displaying symptoms and who had travelled from a Covid-19-hit country could be tested.
She said a subsequent board investigation had shown evidence of a community spread of coronavirus in Gwent by March 6.
In a written submission to the Senedd’s health, social care and sport committee, the board said it was “not authorised” to test patients it suspected had Covid-19 who had not travelled to certain countries.
The submission said there was a “rapid increase” in coronavirus cases in early March and “accelerated” reaching a peak at Easter, following the introduction of the UK-wide lockdown.
The health board, which covers Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport, Torfaen and South Powys, was in the early days of the pandemic one of the worst-hit areas in the UK and had almost half of the cases in Wales.
Dr Aitken had previously warned there was a “cluster” of coronavirus cases and was following “the same pattern as was seen in Italy”.
She told the committee: “Our first patient was admitted to intensive care and tested positive on March 11 and was picked up when the surveillance was broadened to include people who hadn’t travelled.
“What has become evident, subsequently, is that the virus had established itself in the community in Gwent by that first week in March.
“At the time testing was only based on a travel history.
“We found ourselves responding to the virus at an early stage of the outbreak in the UK as a whole and our critical care usage rose extremely steeply and at the peak we had 49 patients in critical care and our normal maximum being 28.
“The important thing is that we did cope but we coped by redeploying our workforce.”
Judith Paget, the chief executive of the board, said what concerned them the most in the future was another coronavirus pandemic which was combined with annual seasonal flu outbreak.
“I think the thing that is worrying us the most is the combination of a flu season and a Covid season,” she said.
“Thinking ahead how we move through the summer into the winter and prepare ourselves using everything we have learnt from the last eight weeks.”
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