COVID-19 Scams

During the recent pandemic of COVID-19, we have seen fantastic community spirit. For example, volunteers helping out vulnerable people within their community and the gallant efforts by Colonel Tom Moore who raised over 32 million pounds for the NHS. Unfortunately, though others take advantage in these situations by preying on the desperate and vulnerable. Recently there have been multiple reports of unscrupulous people approaching individuals trying to sell COVID-19 tests door to door and preying on the vulnerable and elderly. They have also been trying to sell ‘miracle cures’ and vaccines, which to date don’t currently exist. Below is a quick guide in what to look for when wanting to find a genuine healthcare provider for testing and treatment. Please note that this is not a full extensive guide, nor is it legal or medical advice. It is only intended to be used to highlight the main points to look for.

 

First of all do not rush into a decision to accept any type of care without first carrying out your due diligence, especially using a healthcare service other than your GP or community team. It is very rare for a healthcare service to turn up to your door without letting you know your appointment time beforehand, either by letter, email or telephone. If you did not expect the visit and do not recognise the company, do not accept any services they provide or hand over any money. It is always important to check the individual’s identification and confirm the organisation they work for.

 

Confirming Legitimacy of Organisations

Before choosing a healthcare organisation to help assist with your COVID-19 requirements, it is important to confirm they are a legitimate healthcare organisation. Under the Health and Social Care Act, any organisation who wishes to provide healthcare services for the treatment of disease, disorder or injury must be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The CQC is the regulatory body who register and inspect all healthcare services, including hospitals, care homes, and community care services. You can check to see if a company is registered with them by searching their register online at https://www.cqc.org.uk/, or by calling their general enquires line on 0300 061 6161. It may also be a requirement for the organisation to have ‘diagnostic and screening procedures’ for them to carry out COVID-19 testing. If an organisation is providing healthcare services without CQC registration, this needs reporting to CQC and the police immediately if you believe it to be a scam.

 

Organisations will be taking your data, including medical information; they are therefore legally required to register with The Information Commissioner’s Office. Their register can be checked online at https://ico.org.uk/ESDWebPages/Search, or by calling them on 0303 123 1113.

 

You can also check the organisation's website to find more information about them. Companies House may be able to give you information on how long they have been established. Websites such as Google Reviews, Trust Pilot and reviews on social media may also give you information on if they are established and the quality of the service they have provided in the past.

   

Treatments

At the time of writing there is currently no cure for COVID-19, either in the form of antiviral medications (which are similar to antibiotics but used to fight viruses) or a vaccine. However, there is currently a worldwide effort to create these treatments, with multiple potential options currently in clinical trials which will hopefully be produced within the next 12 – 18 months. Until this happens, it is important to manage the symptoms by using over the counter medicines such as Paracetamol, multivitamins, regular (non-alcoholic) fluid intake and rest. If your symptoms worsen you can seek further advice from your GP or the NHS 111 phone service. Be very wary of anybody stating they have medicines or vaccinations to treat COVID-19 as these do not currently exist.

Testing

For those services that are providing testing, as mentioned above, make sure the organisations are registered with governing bodies and for the correct services. There are currently 2 main types of testing: one test is to see if an individual is currently infected with the virus and involves taking a sample from the back of a patient’s throat using a swab. The samples are then sent to a lab for testing and the results usually received in a few days. The second type of test is what’s called an antibody test; this is a test to see if there are any antibodies present in the blood. There are 2 types of antibodies: IgM and IgG. IgM is an antibody that’s produced during the initial infection period and the IgG is the type of antibody for longer-term immunity. It is important to remember that if an individual tests positive for having IgG antibodies, we do not yet know how long this immunity lasts as we are still learning about this new virus. The antibody test involves taking a small sample of blood and sending it to a lab for analysis, or can also be carried out using a ‘cassette-style test’ (as seen in the image).

Both of these types of tests can be carried out by the NHS and partnered services, or by going direct to an organisation and paying for the service privately. To see if you're eligible for NHS testing, visit the government website. Some organisations can provide you with testing for a fee. These can be at private clinics, home visit services or home testing kits which are sent in the post. It is important to be informed about the accuracy of any of these tests. Ensure you check for this and if they carry any quality indicators such as the CE mark. Make sure you would be comfortable in carrying out the self-test yourself, as badly taken samples may give you false results. For your peace of mind, it may be more beneficial to have a healthcare professional carry out the testing process for you to reduce the chances of false results.

 

If you do choose to use private medical services, make sure you know how much it is going to cost before the appointment. It is a requirement for all services to be open about pricing and the overall costs of services.

 

If you have any concerns about a provider and think there’s a possibility of it being a scam, do not engage with them. If possible remember descriptions of individuals, car registration numbers, and if safe to do so, take pictures, videos or save CCTV footage. These can be extremely helpful in identifying individuals, reporting them to the police for investigation and stopping them from taking advantage of others. 

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