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British Army could be drafted in to deliver 'moonshot' vaccination drive at empty NHS Nightingales

The Army could be drafted in to deliver a ‘moonshot’ vaccination drive at empty NHS Nightingale hospital sites, it has emerged.

Officials believe soldiers are needed to dish out the tens of millions of jabs to the public when a vaccine is ready.

Troops could be deployed to the makeshift hospitals – which have been empty since the first Covid wave ended – and other public buildings.

Health service bosses have been tasked with creating these vaccination plans by the end of next month in case a vaccine is ready in the winter.

It comes as the government’s screening advisers said they have not been consulted over Boris Johnson’s ambitious Operation Moonshot.

Officials believe soldiers (pictured at the NHS Nightingale in London in April) are needed to dish out the tens of millions of jabs to the public when a vaccine is ready

Officials believe soldiers (pictured at the NHS Nightingale in London in April) are needed to dish out the tens of millions of jabs to the public when a vaccine is ready

It comes as the government's screening advisers said they have not been consulted over Boris Johnson's (pictured, on Wednesday) ambitious Operation Moonshot

It comes as the government’s screening advisers said they have not been consulted over Boris Johnson’s (pictured, on Wednesday) ambitious Operation Moonshot 

Pictured is the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in east London, which was transformed into the field hospital for the pandemic

Pictured is the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in east London, which was transformed into the field hospital for the pandemic

The Prime Minister is hoping to carry out ten million tests a day by early next year including DIY pregnancy-style kits which turn around results in 15 minutes.

Sources told the i GPs and chemists do not have the resources to hand out the huge number of vaccinations that will be needed to tackle the coronavirus.

But it is believed the NHS would thrash out a Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) to the British Army to get help.

Soldiers would also be needed to assist with moving vaccines across the country, as well as refrigerating and storing them an potentially defending them from sabotage.

And army medics could also work with NHS nurses to administer the jabs, which is a harder task than the current Covid-19 swab test.

It would not be the first cooperating between the military and NHS during this crisis as the Army was deployed for the setting up of the NHS Nightingale sites in March.

There are plans being considered for a ‘dry run’ before a vaccine is found, where soldiers would assist with the dosing out  of the annual flu vaccine.

Troops (pictured, a mobile testing unit in Scotland last month) could be deployed to the NHS Nightingale hospitals - which have been empty since the first Covid wave ended

Troops (pictured, a mobile testing unit in Scotland last month) could be deployed to the NHS Nightingale hospitals – which have been empty since the first Covid wave ended

This NHS Nightingale hospitals (pictured, Matt Hancock outside the London one in April) have been mothballed since the first wave of the pandemic

This NHS Nightingale hospitals (pictured, Matt Hancock outside the London one in April) have been mothballed since the first wave of the pandemic

A pie chart shows how some 20 per cent of UK public spending is on health care, with the government wanting to spend a similar amount on the Moonshot project

A pie chart shows how some 20 per cent of UK public spending is on health care, with the government wanting to spend a similar amount on the Moonshot project

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this year the jab will be given to people over the age of 50, on top of the usual over 65-year-olds.

An Ministry of Defence source said a MACA had not been submitted, but they would ‘lean into any MACA request we do get and support things like roll-out and logistics’.

SAGE voiced scepticism over ‘moonshot’ plan 

The government’s own SAGE group of experts has voiced serious doubts about the ‘moonshot’ testing initiative.

A ‘consensus’ statement from the experts on August 31 assesses the idea, saying it can only be ‘one component’ of the overall response.

‘Establishing a new mass testing programme must be undertaken with a view to the entire end-to-end system – testing technology is only one component,’ the paper said. 

The body also cautioned that the ‘cheaper, faster tests that will be useful for mass testing are likely to have lower ability to identify true positives (lower sensitivity) and true negatives (lower specificity) than the tests currently used’.

SAGE also raised doubts about whether the idea would provide value for money. It said that ‘careful consideration should be given to ensure that any mass testing programme provides additional benefit over investing equivalent resources into improving… the speed and coverage of NHSTT for symptomatic cases… and the rate of self-isolation and quarantine for those that test positive’. 

The scientists said testing to allow entry to sporting events and theatres could be considered as a way of reducing risk. But the document added: ‘Such applications of testing would require superb organisation and logistics with rapid, highly sensitive tests. 

‘This is also separate from the national strategy to reduce R, for which such testing would have only minimal effect.’ 

They added that the ‘Covid war is not over’.

Meanwhile the government’s screening advisers have revealed they have not been consulted over Operation Moonshot.

Outraged public health experts slammed the news as ‘incomprehensible’ as the PM looks to test the entire population for the coronavirus.

The National Screening Committee, which helps government ministers and the NHS on population screening, is yet to be approached about the £100billion plans.

The group is made up of 23 doctors, academics and public health representatives and assists with mass screening for diseases such as cancers and chlamydia.

The committee members work closely with the chief medical officers for each of the four powers that make up the UK.

Prof Bob Steele, who is its chairman, confirmed to the Guardian: ‘The NSC has not been involved with this in any way.’

The news was branded ‘incomprehensible’ by director of the Newcastle University Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science Dr Allyson Pollock.

She told the newspaper: ‘Mass testing is screening and we have a huge amount of experts in this country who run design and run research.

‘This is another example of how public health has been marginalised. Why has Matt Hancock not put the committee in charge of scrutinising all these proposals?’

The Prime Minister is hoping to carry out ten million tests a day by early next year including DIY pregnancy-style kits which turn around results in 15 minutes.

He believes the strategy, costing up to £100billion, would enable the UK to return to normal in the absence of a vaccine and go to work presuming they have a negative.

But scientists claimed the tests were potentially dangerous and misleading because they are prone to telling patients they are in the clear when it is a ‘false negative.’

Equally the results may wrongly tell someone they are infected, prompting them to quarantine needlessly along with all their close contacts, a ‘false positive.’

At the same time, the pregnancy-style tests that the strategy is likely to depend on have not even been approved by health regulatory bodies yet.

Soldiers (pictured in Scotland last month) would also be needed to assist with moving vaccines across the country, as well as refrigerating and storing them an potentially defending them from sabotage

Soldiers (pictured in Scotland last month) would also be needed to assist with moving vaccines across the country, as well as refrigerating and storing them an potentially defending them from sabotage

Meanwhile the Government’s labs are currently struggling to process just 170,000 tests a day – far below the level needed to make the plan viable.

Mr Hancock was on Wednesday jeered in the Commons when he tried to claim the strategy would enable the country to get back to normal.

NEW LOCKDOWN RULES FOR ENGLAND FROM MONDAY 

  • Max social gatherings SIX PEOPLE
  • Applies indoors and outdoors
  • Applies in private homes
  • Applies in pubs and restaurants
  • Does NOT apply to schools or workplaces
  • Does NOT apply to weddings, funerals, team sport
  • Does NOT apply if household bubbles are bigger than six people
  • Police will be encouraged to break up larger groups and issue £100 fines, which will then double on each repeat offence up to £3,200

Opposition MPs were seen laughing as Mr Hancock attempted to explain how Operation Moonshot would enable theatres and sporting venues to open up.

Even Tory MPs called for the Government to get a grip of the issue amid complaints over the current testing shortages.

One complained that people were having to ‘criss-cross the country and travelling for many hours’ to secure a test.

Moonshot – first put forward by Mr Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday – aims to carry out up to ten million tests a day, up from 170,000.

Britons would be encouraged to take tests at home before going into offices, theatres and sporting events to ensure they were negative and could safely mingle with others.

Some of the tests which are swab or saliva-based are already being piloted on the NHS and in Hampshire and Southampton, and can turn around results in between 20 to 90 minutes.

But the Prime Minister also has his eye on a 15-minute home-based pregnancy-style test, which has not yet been approved by medical regulators.

A leaked document published by the British Medical Journal on Wednesday claimed the Government was hoping to carry out ten million tests by early next year at a cost of £100 billion.

Department of Health and Social Care officials said the NSC was not involved in Moonshot because it was about testing, not screening.

But it flies in the face of the operation’s documents, which say: ‘It will fast become possible to extend mass routine screening to groups at moderate risk.’








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