After two years of self-isolating, mask-wearing and social distancing, Covid restrictions finally came to an end in England yesterday. Whether it is the end of Covid remains to be seen – in Wales, patients have been given access to an app to manage long Covid symptoms. Some good news for patients with sickle cell disease, who can now receive the first new treatment in 20 years. And the government is tackling inequality in maternity care through the creation of a new taskforce.
All Covid restrictions have been ended in England, nearly two years after they were introduced. People who test positive for Covid will no longer be required to self-isolate.
The end of restrictions also means an end to self-isolation support payments, previously available to those on low incomes, as well as the end of routine contact tracing. Free PCR and lateral flow tests will still be available until 1 April, however.
Transport for London has removed the requirement to wear face coverings on tube trains and buses.
Legal restrictions have already been lifted in Northern Ireland, but Wales and Scotland are easing restrictions more gradually.
A taskforce has been set up to tackle the inequalities experienced in maternity care by women from ethnic minorities and those those living in deprived areas.
Black women are twice as likely to experience stillbirth as white women, and four times as likely to die during childbirth or the period following childbirth. They are also 40% more likely to miscarry than white women, studies suggest.
The Maternity Disparities Taskforce will meet every two months and focus on: improving personalised care and support plans; addressing how wider societal issues affect maternal health; improving education and awareness of health when trying to conceive; increasing access to maternity care for all women and developing targeted support for those from the most vulnerable groups; and empowering women to make evidence-based decisions about their care.
NHS Wales has launched an app to help people experiencing long Covid. The app, which is available in both Welsh and English, enables users to record their symptoms, track their progress and learn to manage their condition at home. It also gives access to more than 100 videos and links to advice. Users of the app will be able to access advice from psychologists, dietitians, therapists and consultants.
The app is part of a wider effort by the Welsh government to support people with long Covid, including helping health professionals to recognise the symptoms, signposting people to support and providing a clear pathway for people going through the healthcare system.
Health Education England has published a roadmap into how artificial intelligence (AI) will be used in the NHS. The report aims to understand the use of AI technologies that currently exist in the healthcare system, the uptake of these new technologies and the impact on the workforce.
It looks at how long AI projects will take to implement, how the different types of technology are distributed throughout the health service, what clinical areas are using AI and which parts of the workforce use AI the most.
The report found that diagnostic technology, such as that used in imaging, pathology and endoscopy, was the most common use of AI in healthcare (34% share), followed by automation/service efficiency, P4 (predictive, personalized, preventive and participatory) medicine and remote monitoring.
Patients with sickle cell disease have begun receiving a new treatment called crizanlizumab for the condition – the first in more than 20 years. Given as a monthly transfusion, it could cut visits to A&E by 40%.
Sickle cell disease, which mainly affects people of African or African-Caribbean origin, causes red blood cells to distort and become sticky, blocking vessels and restricting oxygen supply, triggering excruciating pain. Crizanlizumab is a monoclonal antibody, which works by binding to a protein in the blood cells to prevent the restriction of blood and oxygen supply that lead to a sickle cell crisis.
Announcing the new treatment, Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said the drug deal, struck by the NHS, would help as many as 5,000 people over the next three years to have a much better quality of life.