‘I should have been called for emergency Covid medicine within 24 hours – but the system is so backlogged it took FOUR days’

Vulnerable people are waiting days for emergency Covid medicine when they should be contacted within 24 hours, a patient said. The 37-year-old dad from Heaton Chapel claims he was forced to chase the treatment multiple times after reporting his positive test to the NHS on the same day.

The Covid Medicine Delivery Unit is meant to start contacting patients to arrange the vital treatment ‘within 24 hours’ of a clinically vulnerable person reporting a positive Covid test, according to the NHS. The medicine should then be provided shortly afterwards, with the NHS website reading that ‘these free treatments need to be given quickly after infection’. But the patient who spoke to the MEN, on the condition of anonymity, said he didn’t get a call from a clinician to get the ball rolling until four days later.

The 37-year-old says he tested positive on March 30. The delays left this patient questioning the effectiveness of the system, while he says the medics he spoke to chasing the treatment reported massive backlogs within the Covid Medicine Delivery Unit (CMDU), causing treatment to stall.

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Diagnosed with Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease which sees him take immune system-suppressing medication, the dad’s clinically vulnerable status qualifies him for early antiviral treatment supplied by the unit. The antiviral treatment is intended to limit the severe impacts that Covid can wage on those with compromised immune systems.

“Months ago, I had contacted my GP to work out the route to getting early treatment if I did become positive,” he told the MEN “They told me that they would refer me to the Covid Medicine Delivery Unit if they didn’t get in touch directly after a positive result.

“I logged the positive result on the government system and the NHS Track and Trace app. I received an email response saying ‘LFT positive’ which gave me general information. It alluded to the early treatment pathway, but didn’t give any confirmation of my status.”

The Covid Medicine Delivery Unit at Manchester Royal Infirmary (stock image)

The 37-year-old ‘heard nothing further’, deciding to call his GP practice which referred him to 111, saying the operator ‘should be able to put him in touch with the CMDU’. The rest of the day went by, and the next, and the patient says he was no closer to getting the early antiviral treatment.

“I started emailing everybody and anybody,” he said. “It seemed that the process was utterly derailed, I was well past the 24-hour time scale they have set.

“The 111 operator told me the CMDU is so far behind that they are only getting in touch with people after five days – that negates the whole purpose of the service. They are meant to be delivering early treatment drugs. It seems like the system has been set up to fail.”

The patient claims they were ‘finally’ contacted on April 3, some four days after reporting the positive Covid result. He believes the CMDU only got in touch after he spoke to his inflammatory bowel specialist at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, who then ‘spoke to a clinician who was able to get him the treatment quickly via a courier’.

The process left the clinically vulnerable man ‘appalled’. He also became fearful for those ‘not in a position’ to chase for an answer from the CMDU as he could.

The NHS’ Covid treatment pathway showing that the CMDU should be in touch ‘within 24 hours’

“There are people much more vulnerable than me, they might not be in a position to call around like I was,” continued the Stockport patient. “I am more concerned about flagging it up to get the system corrected than the medication itself – but Illnesses do tend to affect me longer than everyone else. I was keen to get the medication. It was frustrating.

“I was appalled at how badly organized and unprepared the system is. A nurse at the MRI told me they had been ‘drafted in’ that weekend to help deal with the backlog.

“We’ve been told the paradigm has shifted because we’ve got treatments for the vulnerable, so people can decide whether to walk around with Covid – that part of the equation drops out when the whole reason for relaxation of regulatory measures isn’t being delivered effectively.”

Pressures on the system are being caused by a rise in Covid cases nationally, according to health care bosses responding to the patient’s experience. The number of referrals to the CMDU has risen as case rates have skyrocketed in recent weeks, ‘returning to the numbers seen at the end of December and into January of in excess of 100 patients-a-day’, say health chiefs – a marked increase from the 20-a-day seen in February.

“We’re sorry to hear that this patient has concerns about the Covid Medicine Delivery Unit service and our teams will be discussing these with them in full,” said Professor Jane Eddleston, joint Greater Manchester medical executive lead for acute care. “Like many other units across the country, due to a steep rise in Covid infection levels, we have seen an increase in the number of patients being referred to the Greater Manchester Covid Medicine Delivery Unit.

“This means it has taken longer than we would have liked to contact some patients for assessment which we are actively seeking to resolve by increasing the number of staff handling calls. Following assessment, around 19 in 20 patients referred to the service do not require medication .

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“Since December, we have treated hundreds of patients and while the system is working well for most people, we recognize where we must improve. If people have not heard from the CMDU within 48 hours of reporting a positive test, and are concerned about their symptoms, they should contact their GP or NHS 111.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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