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Coronavirus: What you need to know graphic featuring three key points: wash your hands for 20 seconds; use a tissue for coughs; avoid touching your face

The NHS has listed three main symptoms of coronavirus, that people should be aware of and ready to act upon.

What are the symptoms?

  • A new, continuous cough, where you cough a lot for more than an hour, or have three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
  • Fever - where your temperature is above 37.8C
  • Loss of smell or taste

If you, or someone you live with, has any of these symptoms the advice is stay at home to stop the risk of giving coronavirus to others.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of symptoms also includes chills, repeated shaking, muscle pain and sore throat.

It takes five days on average to start showing the symptoms, but some people will get them much later. The World Health Organization says incubation lasts up to 14 days.

Coronavirus key symptoms: High temperature, cough, breathing difficulties, loss of taste or smell
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When do people need to go to hospital?

The majority of people with coronavirus will recover after rest and pain relief (such as paracetamol).

The main reason people need hospital treatment is difficulty breathing.

Doctors may scan the lungs to see how badly they are affected and give support, such as oxygen or ventilation, if needed.

However, people should not go to A&E if they are concerned. In the UK, the NHS 111 website will guide you through what to do.

If you are so breathless that you are unable to speak more than a few words you will be told to call 999, as this is a medical emergency.

If you become so ill that you've stopped doing all of your usual daily activities then it will advise speaking to a nurse by dialling NHS 111.

What happens in intensive care?

Intensive care units are specialist wards for people who are very ill.

Coronavirus patients will get oxygen support, which can involve using a facemask or a tube in the nose.

The most invasive way - for the most seriously ill patients - is ventilation where air, with increased levels of oxygen, is pushed into the lungs via a tube in the mouth, nose or through a small cut in the throat.


What should I do if I have mild symptoms?

Patients with mild symptoms should self-isolate at home for at least seven days.

People are advised not to ring NHS 111 to report their symptoms unless they are worried. They should also not go to their GP, or A&E.

Details for Scotland are to check NHS inform, then ring your GP in office hours, or 111 out-of-hours. In Wales call NHS 111, and in Northern Ireland, call your GP.

If you have come into contact with somebody who may be infected, you may be told to self-isolate.

The World Health Organization has also issued advice for the public.

Graphic showing how to take your temperature using different types of thermometers
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Older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure), are more likely to become severely ill. Men are at slightly higher risk of dying from the virus than women.

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?


How do I protect myself?

The best thing is regular and thorough hand washing, preferably with soap and water.

Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes small droplets - packed with the virus - into the air. These can be breathed in, or cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on, then your eyes, nose or mouth.

So, coughing and sneezing into tissues, not touching your face with unwashed hands, and avoiding close contact with infected people are important.

People will be most infectious when they have symptoms, but some may spread the virus even before they are sick.

In England and Scotland, people are being advised to wear face masks in shops and on public transport to help prevent the spread of the virus.

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NHS advice
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This explainer will be regularly updated to reflect the audience's questions about coronavirus. Details of how to get in touch are below.

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Coronavirus has thrown up tough challenges for the profession, but there is also the chance for positive change


The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in a whole new range of challenges for social workers. They are juggling personal safety worries with the effects of lack of resources and workforce shortages, all while attempting to safeguard vulnerable children and adults, observe social distancing and protect public health.

Modern social work – and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) – celebrates its 50th birthday this month, yet what would have been a time to take stock of our history with an eye on the next 50 years has been turned on its head.

Our members have been very vocal on the challenges they are facing. More than 2,000 have so far contributed to our Covid-19 survey, which continues to inform our actions and conversations with the government.

It is also acting as a valuable diary of social work’s achievements in the crisis so far.

Social workers have had to adapt at pace, yet paradoxically it may make positive change more likely.

With members’ voices ringing in my ears, and in a spirit of realistic optimism, here are the ways social work will change in the next few years:

Public support for social workers will grow

Referrals to social services for children, adults and famlilies will surge once lockdown eases, and “hidden harms” and stored up need are revealed. More than 85% of respondents in our survey expect this to start impacting in September, when children go back to school.

But, through this, social workers’ vital roles in protecting and empowering people at risk – and whether these have been hampered – will become visible to governments. Public awareness and support for social workers and their concerns will grow.

It will be impossible to ignore the huge gaps in funding – and moves to invest in the centralised NHS, rather than local social care yet again, will be resisted by local authorities.

Mental health practice and social work will come closer together

Covid-19 is as much a psychosocial crisis as a health energency. The national response must not be left to a clinical model. After disasters, recovery often starts with finding ways of coping, identifying strengths in individuals and social networks, building a sense of community, having practical needs met, rights upheld and fought for, and hoping for a compassionate future. This is social work.

Specialist mental health social work will grow and become more influential. More social workers will develop and use mental health skills.

Social work will adapt to a new normal

Change means we can be clearer about what we value and what we are missing. Members repeatedly tell us in our survey that they miss contact and camaraderie from colleagues – whether formal support or coffee and chats.

While video calls have kept us in contact with people who use services and colleagues, we are missing the ability to meet people we work with, to see them and be able to use non-verbal, visual clues and physical information. Digital developments can’t fully replace face to face contact.

Working conditions will improve

Support for social workers’ wellbeing will improve across many organisations. Self-care resources, flexible working, personalised risk assessments, provision to meet with peers, relevant learning and reflective supervision are all in the social worker’s handbook, but our survey shows implementation is patchy across the country.

The changes must happen if employers are to retain and recruit staff, or prevent absences and industrial action. Resilient and responsive organisations – including BASW – will rise to the challenge of supporting wellbeing better and creatively.


When public health strategy and national governmental decisions are scrutinised, the role of social workers in recovery and future emergency and public health planning will be recognised. There can be no effective public health strategy without social health, and social workers are crucial to the health of the nation.

Social workers have a vital role to play in supporting and protecting individuals, families and communities traumatised by coronavirus. They are national treasures of compassionate, practical, justice-driven people who can do so much to get the whole country through this time.

Austerity in public services cannot be an option post-Covid if we are to have a chance of sustaining a decent society. There must be urgent and major investment within and beyond local authorities, if social work is to play its fullest, necessary leading part in recovery in every community of the UK.

BASW will be fighting every step of the way for social workers and the public who need their support.Ruth Allen is chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers




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Wednesday, 22 April 2020 09:36

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Social distancing measures in the UK could be relaxed within weeks if there are signs the coronavirus epidemic is slowing, a leading scientist and government adviser has said.

Professor Neil Ferguson - of Imperial College London, which is advising the government on its coronavirus response - said the UK's epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, but said people's behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.


He told BBC Radio 4: "The critical thing first is to get case numbers down, and then I'm hopeful... in a few weeks' time we will be able to move to a regime which will not be normal life, let me emphasise that, but will be somewhat more relaxed in terms of social distancing and the economy, but relying more on testing."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP
Hancock: 'Stay in this weekend'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have urged people to "stick with the guidance" to stay at home and resist the temptation to break the COVID-19 outbreak social distancing rules this sunny weekend.

Asked what would happen if people flouted the lockdown rules, Prof Ferguson replied: "That moves us to a slightly more pessimistic scenario.

"We still think things will plateau but we'll be at quite high levels of infection for weeks and weeks rather than seeing quite a rapid decline as the type seen in China."


The government ramped up measures against the coronavirus epidemic last month after a report by Prof Ferguson's team predicted the UK could otherwise have seen 250,000 deaths.


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The number of people who have died in the UK after contracting coronavirus has risen by 43 to 465.

It represents the smallest rise in the number of deaths since 17 March - more than a week ago.

But there was the biggest increase in the number of infections across the UK - up 1,542 to 9,529.

In England, 28 people died in 24 hours.

There were four deaths at Barts Health NHS Trust in London and four others at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust.

The others who died, including one person aged 93, did have underlying health conditions.

Six more deaths in Scotland take the total there to 22, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said there are 51 people now in intensive care who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are suspected to have it.

has announced five more coronavirus deaths, also taking its total to 22, and Northern Ireland said its total had increased from four to seven.

The UK's coronavirus numbers as it stands:

  • England - 414 deaths and 7,973 confirmed cases
  • Scotland - 22 deaths and 719 confirmed cases
  • Wales - 22 deaths and 628 confirmed cases
  • Northern Ireland - seven deaths and 209 confirmed cases


Among those confirmed to have tested positive is Prince Charles, whose diagnosis was announced earlier.

The Ministry of Justice has also announced that 19 prisoners across 10 jails have been diagnosed with the infection, plus four prison staff across four jails and three prisoner escort and custody services staff.

The Department for Health and Social Care will update the UK total for deaths, confirmed cases and tests later.

The number of cases and deaths is expected to continue to keep rising as the UK waits to feel the impact of a nationwide lockdown enforced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.

Imperial College Professor Neil Ferguson, whose work on the epidemic has informed the government's policy, has said his research team is "moderately confident" that demand for intensive care beds will peak in two-and-a-half to three weeks' time if the measures have the desired effect.

The prime minister remains under pressure to further strengthen the lockdown to stop non-essential construction workers heading to building sites, so as not to overwhelm public transport.

NHS staff have complained of being met with packed London Underground services so far this week because so many people are continuing to go to work.

The government is still working to boost the health service's resources as the UK prepares for a surge in serious coronavirus cases, with 250,000 volunteers being sought to help vulnerable people.

The ExCel Centre in east London is also being converted into a field hospital with 4,000 beds to cope with demand.

Military personnel have been seen at the huge exhibition centre to begin work on transforming it into NHS Nightingale, which was announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Tuesday.


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The UK government is planning to introduce emergency laws next week to ban mass gatherings of more than 500 people in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.

A Whitehall source said the government has drafted emergency legislation to stop mass gatherings and compensate organisations.


The laws could also give police and immigration officers the power to detain people if they are suspected of being infected and the ability to direct schools to stay open, The Times reported.

The newspaper said the laws could remain in place for two years.

 Key Points

  • The London Marathon is among a number of sporting events cancelled
  • Anyone entering New Zealand will have to self-isolate for 14 days
  • US President Donald Trump has declared the outbreak a national emergency
  • More than 145,000 cases and almost 5,500 deaths have been declared worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University
  • Italy recorded 250 cases in a day, bringing its total to almost 18,000

So far, ministers have resisted a move to ban mass gatherings even though some major sporting events including the London Marathon and all Premier League matches have already been postponed.


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The UK government is trying to tackle fake news about the coronavirus outbreak by setting up an expert team to counter disinformation.


False claims about a coronavirus vaccine and bogus cures have circulated on social media, often attracting hundreds of shares.

Ministers hope the new team will help to limit the spread of disinformation, which refers to the deliberate creation and spread of false or manipulated information intended to deceive and mislead audiences.

One such rumour is a Facebook post which claimed a vaccine exists for the new form of coronavirus, which is false.

The post has been shared more than 500 times.

Another claim is that a Chinese respiratory expert found saline solution can kill the virus, and that people should use it to rinse their mouths out.



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Wednesday, 19 February 2020 08:19

Silent privatisation of the health service


Treating healthcare as a market commodity has its risks, writes Dr John Puntis, while Liam Clegg is angered that access to treatment is increasingly linked to the ability to pay

 Your report (Beauticians’ mole removals letting skin cancers grow and causing burns, 12 February) highlights dangers to patients from interventions performed outside the NHS. In 2019, NHS England (NHSE) published guidance for commissioners on restricting a number of NHS procedures. “Removal of benign skin lesions” was in fact the major target for predicted reduced activity/anticipated savings. While the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was involved in the NHSE consultation, it has not endorsed the recommendations to reduce activity through withdrawal of funding.

In the light of your report, it’s ironic that one of NHSE’s stated objectives was to “reduce avoidable harm to patients”. It appears that the law of unintended consequences was not given due consideration. Increased risk to patients is an example of what happens when healthcare is treated as a market commodity.
Dr John Puntis
Co-chair, Keep Our NHS Public

 A recent appointment with a healthcare professional at my GP confirmed that wax build-up explained my recent hearing loss. I was initially told that the practice had no syringing appointments currently available, but later they called and said they had decided to no longer offer this service, and that the cheapest option they recommended is £60 at Boots. I’m angered that access to health is increasingly linked to ability to pay. Silent privatisation of the NHS, I guess.
Liam Clegg



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Friday, 31 January 2020 08:31

11 charts on the problems facing the NHS

 The NHS faces a number of challenges and often tops the list of concerns voiced by the public, but what state is it actually in?

1. We spend more on the NHS than ever before...

Last year more than £156bn was spent on health across the UK - about 12 times the figure that was spent 70 years ago.

And that's after you adjust it for inflation.

It means today about 30p out of every £1 spent on public services goes on health.

How the NHS budget has grown

UK health spending from 1949 to 2019

Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies

2. ...but spending has slowed

Ever since the early 1950s the budget has been increasing, but the scale of those rises has varied quite considerably.

The average rise has been just over 4%. The biggest rises were seen under the Labour governments between 1997 and 2010 when the average annual rise was about 6%.

This dropped to 1% under the post-financial crisis coalition government between 2010 and 2015 - a figure which then rose under the majority Conservative government of recent years.

The Conservatives have said their five-year funding plan for the NHS will see the budget rise by an average of 3.4% a year above inflation. It means that by 2023-24 there would be £149bn of funding available.

By comparison, during the 2019 General Election, Labour proposed increasing it by 3.9% - bringing the budget to £155bn by 2023-24. The Lib Dems were marginally behind this coming in at £154bn.

3. Use of private companies has increased

Labour often talk about the risk of privatisation of the NHS, accusing the Conservatives of wanting to do a deal with US President Donald Trump.

Private firms are already involved in providing NHS care. Just over 7% of the budget goes on private providers, up from just over 5% in 2011-12.

Percentage of NHS budget spent on private providers


Source: Department for Health and Social Care, Full Fact research

These can be deals to run a specific service or to take on some NHS patients for routine treatments like hip and knee replacements.

But it still leaves the overwhelming majority of care provided by the state and state-employed staff.

Actually, GPs are technically independent small businesses contracted to provide a service to the NHS - but they tend not to be considered as private providers.

NHS money also goes to the private sector to purchase drugs and equipment.

Nearly all of this is bought centrally so the NHS can use its bargaining power to negotiate good deals. A recent example of this was the agreement reached with Vertex to fund its cystic fibrosis treatments.

The NHS got a significant saving on the price the drug manufacturer originally wanted. Fears have been raised that US firms would want the NHS to agree more lucrative deals - they get more money for their drugs in their own country. But given the cost to the NHS of such a concession many doubt this is likely.

4. Waiting times are getting worse

There are three key targets for hospitals: covering A&E, cancer care and routine operations, such as knee and hip replacements.

All parts of the UK have been struggling to hit them.

The way they are measured differs between the UK nations.

The A&E target is the most directly comparable - in that each nation expects 95% of patients to be treated or admitted in four hours.

A&E performance across UK

% of patients dealt with inside four hours

Source: NHS England, Information Analysis Directorate, ISD Scotland, Stats Wales

Performance is worse in Wales and Northern Ireland than it is in England and Scotland.

Scotland is the last nation to have hit the target - back in the summer of 2017.

Meanwhile, in cancer care patients are meant to start treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral. But that too is being missed, while waiting lists for routine treatments are rising.

In England it has topped 4.4 million - the highest on record. Some 15% have waited more than the target time of 18 weeks.

5. The population is ageing

The ageing population is certainly a major factor for the growing pressures - and it is one with which all health systems in the world are struggling.

Medical advances have meant that people are living longer. When the NHS was created, life expectancy was 13 years shorter than it is now.

Percentage of the population by age group

Past and projected UK population

Source: ONS

This is something to celebrate. Infectious diseases are no longer a significant threat. Heart attacks do not claim the lives of people early in the same numbers.

Even cancer is not the death sentence it once was - half of people now survive for a decade or more.

But this progress has come at a cost. People are living with a growing number of long-term chronic conditions - diabetes, heart disease and dementia. These are more about care than cure - what patients usually need is support.

6. Care for older people costs much more

That level of ill-health means the average 65-year-old costs the NHS 2.5 times more than the average 30-year-old.

A 90-year-old costs more than seven times as much.

Relative cost of treating a 90-year-old compared to a 30-year-old

Relative cost in £

Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies

As the number of older people continues to rise so will the cost to the NHS.

This is compounded by other factors, including the rising cost of new drugs and high levels of obesity. A third of adults are so overweight they are risking their health significantly.

All this contributes to what health economists call health inflation - the idea that the cost of providing care outstrips the normal rise in the cost of living across the economy.

This is why health has tended to receive more generous rises than other areas of government spending.

7. The UK spends a lower proportion on health than some other EU countries

But despite this the UK has been left trailing some other parts of Europe when it comes to spending as a proportion of GDP, which is a measure of the size of the economy.

It is a gap that has widened since the previous Labour government was in power from 1997 to 2010.

How the UK compares to other EU countries

Comparison of spending on public and private health and care as a % of GDP, 2017

Source: OECD

The result, as you would expect, is fewer beds, doctors and nurses per patient in the UK than the big spenders, which tend to tax people more.

Germany, for example, has almost twice as many nurses per capita than the UK.

8. The number of vacancies is high...

But the lack of staff in the NHS is not just because of less spending, the health service cannot even fill the posts for which it has got funding.

The NHS in England has nearly 100,000 jobs unfilled at the moment.

The total represents one in 12 of all the posts in the health service and would be enough to staff 10 large hospitals.

It includes about 40,000 nurse posts and nearly 10,000 doctor vacancies.

NHS vacancies by staff group

NHS England, Jan-Mar 2019

Source: NHS Improvement

Some of the gaps are filled using overtime and agency staff, but some simply go unfilled.

There are various initiatives in place to recruit and retain staff.

And the number of training places for doctors and nurses are increasing.

9. ...and building works are falling behind

While the government has been able to put more money into the NHS, one element of the budget that has been cut is the money set aside for capital projects.

That covers the cost of infrastructure, such as building works and IT.

Cost to clear maintenance backlogs

NHS England, £bn

Source: NHS Digital; high risk backlog means urgent attention is required to avoid serious injury, whilst low risk means lowest attention required.

In recent years that has resulted in a growing maintenance backlog with hospitals having to contend with leaky roofs, out-of-date equipment and crumbling buildings.

The capital budget increased by £1bn for 2019-20, bringing the budget up to £7bn.

10. Not many older people get free care

The NHS is also under pressure because of the problems in the social care system.

Social care includes day centres, help in the home for tasks such as washing and dressing, and good quality care in care homes during the final years of life. It is seen as essential to keep people well and living independently - and out of hospital.

The system is means-tested in England, which means only the poorest receive help from councils towards the cost of care.

But even then it is heavily rationed. The result is growing numbers of older people going without care.

Where older people with care needs get help


Source: Age UK, Laing Buisson, NHS Digital, Carers UK

According to Age UK, 1.4 million people over the age of 65 are not getting the care they need.

That represents one in seven of all older people and is a rise of nearly a fifth in two years.

This lack of care in the community has been directly linked to the growing pressures on hospitals by the Care Quality Commission, the body responsible for regulating standards across health and social care.

The regulator believes that without reform of the system, the extra money being put into the NHS could be swallowed up without a noticeable improvement in performance.

The other parts of the UK can make a case for being more generous in this respect - home care is capped in Wales and free for the over-75s in Northern Ireland, while Scotland provides free personal care (washing and dressing) in both care homes and people's own homes.

11. Satisfaction remains high

Despite the challenges being faced by the NHS, the majority of the public say they are satisfied with services.

The British Social Attitudes poll of nearly 3,000 people found 53% of people in England, Scotland and Wales were satisfied with services in 2018.

Patient satisfaction with the NHS

Great Britain

Source: British Social Attitudes survey

But levels of satisfaction are falling.

The latest score was a three percentage point drop since 2017 and the lowest level since 2007. A peak of 70% was seen in 2010.


Experts say waiting times and a lack of staff were major concerns as ratings for GPs dropped to an all-time low.



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