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    In this week’s Blog we will have a look at the lessons learnt so far with the first City lockdown in Leicester and see what this tells us about the UK Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, raise issues again about their competence, outline why the social determinants of heath matter and assess the risks involved in privatisation of the NHS testing centres and public health functions.

    Local lockdown

    Leicester has been directed by central government (Hancock in the House of Commons on the 30th June) to remain in lockdown this weekend when other parts of England were being urged by the Prime Minister to be brave, to bustle in the High Streets to help ramp up an economy which is waiting to be turbo charged. The government announced in Westminster on June 18th that there was a local outbreak causing concern in Leicester. This news broadcast in the media saw the local Mayor of Leicester and their local Director of Public Health (DPH) in a bemused state. They had been left in the dark because the central government and their privatised drive through/hometesting  service led by Deloittes/SERCO had not shared the so called Pillar 2 data with them. They did not receive Pillar 2 test data for the next 10 days!

    Outbreak plans

    Local Directors of Public Health (DsPH) across England had been required by central government a month earlier to produce Local Outbreak Control Plans by the 30th June. According to the PM they were meant to be in the lead to ‘Whack the Moles’ in his typically colourful and inappropriate language. Whacking moles apparently means manage local outbreaks of COVID-19. Anybody who has actually tried to Whack a Mole on their lawn or at a seaside arcade will know that this is almost impossible and usually the mole hole appears again nearby the following day.

    Local DsPH have been receiving from Public Health England (PHE) regular daily data about local NHS hospital laboratory testing from the Pillar 1 sources. In Leicester this was no cause for concern as there had been a decline since the peak in positive cases in April.  That explains why the Mayor and DPH were bemused. Each week there are now summary bundles of data incorporating both sources sent by PHE but not in a way that local teams can analyse for information of interest such as workplace/occupation/household information. Belatedly, postcode data is now shared which had been hidden before! One of the first requirements in outbreak management is to collect information about possible and confirmed cases with an infection in time, place and person. This information needs to include demographic information such as age and gender, address, GP practice and other data pertinent to the outbreak such as place of work/occupation and travel history. Lack of workplace data has made identifying meat packing plants in outbreaks such as near Kirklees more difficult and another example where the local DPH and the Local Authority were wrong footed by the Minister.

    Public Health England review

    On the 29th June PHE published a review  ‘COVID-19: exceedances in Leicester’. This excellent review showed that the cumulative number of tests in Leicester from Pillar 1 was 1028 tests whereas the number of Pillar 2 was 2188 which is twice as many! The rate per 10,000 people in the Pillar 1 samples was a relatively low rate of 29 while Pillar 2 showed a rate of 62/10,000. The combined positive rate of 90/10,000 is more than twice the rate in the East Midlands and England as a whole. It was on the basis of this Pillar 2 data that the government became alarmed.

    It is just incredible that the government have contracted Deloittes/SERCO to undertake something that they had no prior experience in and to allow a situation to develop when the test results from home testing and drive through centres was not being shared with those charged with controlling local outbreaks.

    The political incompetence was manifest to an extraordinary level when Nadine Dorries, Minister for Mental Health, confirmed to a Parliamentary enquiry that “the contract with Deloittes does not require the company to report positive cases to Public Health England and Local Authorities’.

    It seems as if the point of counting numbers of tests undertaken each day was to simply verify that home tests had been posted and swabs had been taken in the drive-through sites so that Matt Hancock could boast at the Downing Street briefings that the number of tests was increasing.. But we are trying to control COVID-19 and Save Lives. Sharing test results with those charged with controlling local outbreaks must be a fundamental requirement.

    Deprivation and health

    In earlier BLOGs we have highlighted that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected those who live in more deprived areasand additionally has impacted even more on BAME people. Studies have shown that relative poverty, poor and cramped housing, multigenerational households and homes with multi-occupants are all at higher risk of getting the infection and being severely ill. Other factors have been occupation – people on zero hours contracts, low pay and in jobs where you are unable to work from home and indeed need to travel to work on public transport. Many of these essential but low paid jobs are public- or client-facing which confers a higher risk of acquiring the infection.

    All these factors seem to be in play in Leicester. The wards with the highest number of cases have a high % of BAME residents (70% in some wards). One local cultural group are Gujeratis with English as a second language. Another factor that is emerging is the small-scale garment producing factories. It is estimated that up to 80% of the city’s garment output goes to internet suppliers such as Boohoo.

    The garment industry

    Two years ago a Financial Times reporter, Sarah O’Connor, investigated Leicester’s clothing industry. She described a bizarre micro-economy where £4-£4.50 an hour was the going rate for sewing machinists and £3 an hour for packers. These tiny sweatshops are crammed into crumbling old buildings and undercut the legally compliant factories using more expensive machines and paying fairer wages. As she points out (Financial Times 5th July) this Victorian sector is embedded into the 21st century economy and the workforce is largely un-unionised. The big buyers are the online ‘fast fashion’ retailers, which have thrived thanks to the speed and adaptability of their UK suppliers.  Boohoo sources 40% of its clothing in the UK and has prospered during lockdown by switching to leisurewear for the housebound while rivals have shipments left in containers.

    Mahmud Kamani with Kane founded Boohoo in 2006 and it has made him a billionaire. It is said that other competitors such as Missguided and Asos have been put off by concerns about some of Leicester’s factories – including claims over conditions of modern slavery, illegally low wages, VAT fraud and inadequate safety measures. A researcher went into the garment factories earlier this year and is quoted as saying

    I’ve been inside garment factories in Bangladesh, China and Sri Lanka and I can honestly say that what I saw in the middle of the UK was worse than anything I’ve witnessed overseas’.

    Occupational risks, overcrowded housing and poverty have been shown to be risks to contract the virus and become severely ill with it. BAME communities have additional risks over and above these as we have discussed before in relation to the Fenton Disparities report, which was blocked by Ministers who were not keen on the findings of racism in our society and institutions.

    Health and Safety

    In Leicester the Health and Safety Executive has contacted 17 textile businesses, is actively investigating three and taking legal enforcement action against one. In business terms the UK’s low paid sector are an estimated 30% less productive on average than the same sectors in Europe. As unemployment rises in the months ahead it will be vital to focus on jobs as the Labour leadership have stated. However quality should be paramount and the government apparently wants ‘to close the yawning gap between the best and the rest’.

    The Prime Minister has recently promised ‘a government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people’. These arms did not do much for care homes during the first wave of COVID-19 and looking to the future of jobs and economic development the fate of Leicester’s clothing workers will be another test of whether he and his government meant it.

    Incompetent government.

    The pandemic has exposed the UK but particularly people in England to staggering levels of government incompetence. There are other countries too that have this burden and Trump in the USA and Bolsonaro in Brazil spring to mind. They seem confident that the virus won’t hit their citizens and it certainly won’t hit the chosen ones.

    Psychologists say that people like this appear confident because as leaders they know nothing about the complexity of governing. They refer to this as the Dunning-Kruger effect:

    incompetent people don’t realise their incompetence’.

    5.7.2020

    Posted by Jean Hardiman Smith on behalf of the Officers and the Vice Chairs of the SHA.

    1 Comment

    Today (Monday 6 July), hearings in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry begin again after a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has called for no more “painstaking postponements”, saying that “in the cold hard light of day” the crimes of those responsible are apparent.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “The bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell should have seen justice delivered by now, but instead have been forced to wait, first because of the obscene moves from corporate witnesses to secure immunity from prosecution, and then because of the coronavirus pandemic which made continuing the inquiry all but impossible.

    “We are now more than three years on from the disastrous fire at Grenfell Tower and there can be no more painstaking postponements.

    “Before hearings were paused, we saw those involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower try again and again to evade responsibility. But in the cold hard light of day, the crimes of those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, and who ignored the concerns are residents, are apparent – and they must be held accountable.

    “Firefighters continue to stand with the Grenfell community in their pursuit of justice.”

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    2 Comments

    https://youtu.be/1jFWY7WmPBA

    Campaigners and Lewisham residents offer thoughts and thanks to the NHS.

    The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign has launched a new video on the 72nd Birthday for the NHS on Sunday, 5th July 2020. The Campaign say: “In the middle of a global pandemic, with 65,000 deaths in the UK, some thanks and thoughts on the NHS 72nd birthday.”

    Happy birthday to the NHS – you were clapped but tories will not deliver the cash needed #NHSBirthday #SecondWave https://t.co/WOrG41PeDl

    — Alan Hall (@alan_ha11) July 5, 2020

    On this day, The Observer reports that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rushi Sunak refuses a £10 billion cash injection as Ministers have been warned that a second surge of Covid 19 infections let alone the now usual ‘winter pressures’ will leave the NHS “crippled” and “perilously unprepared”.

    The Government promised that the NHS would receive “whatever it needs” and NHS bosses claim that this pledge is to be broken now.

    Further claims that the Government’s chronic underfunding of the NHS will inevitably lead on to the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS have been made.

    Interestingly, in the video a resident reflects by saying:

    “Stop using Covid as a cover to push through a restructuring of the NHS without public consultation.”

    Periodically, when cash has been tight in the NHS proposals surface to downgrade Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department.

    Brian Fisher, a retired Lewisham GP, in the video says: “We continue to defend you [NHS] and fight for publicly funded social care.”

    In that spirit, Cllr Alan Hall has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak supporting Citizen’s UK asking for social care workers to be paid the London Living Wage locally.

    You’ve clapped, now’s the time to act! 🌈

    We know that care workers deserve a real Living Wage so here’s a little reminder that you can send to your MP.

    Help care workers get a real #LivingWage by clicking the link below 👇 https://t.co/iwlaKjaPex#LivingWage4KeyWorkers

    — Citizens UK (@CitizensUK) July 5, 2020

    Time to pay care workers a London Living Wage

    Citizen’s UK say: “Careworkers have been on the frontline of the UK’s fight against COVID-19, but a Real Living Wage would put them at the heart of our economic recovery too. Increasing pay to £9.30 an hour (£10.75 in London) would enable a million low-paid workers to start spending in local businesses and communities up and down the country.”

    The text of the letter is below.

    Dear Chancellor Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP,

    On the 72nd NHS Birthday, I am writing to you as a constituent to ask for your support for Citizens UK’s Living Wage for Careworkers Charter, which aims to ensure careworkers are paid the real Living Wage of £9.30 an hour (£10.75 in London).

    Those in the social care sector are at the frontline of the fight against Covid-19 and I know in our community so many care recipients and their families value their vital work.

    We have all been ‘clapping for carers’ on Thursday evenings in recognition of the danger they face, and yet they are often paid the minimum wage (also known as the National Living Wage) of £8.72 an hour.

    Citizens UK is calling for the UK government to invest the £1.4 billion that the Resolution Foundation estimates it would cost for every care sector worker, who delivers publicly–funded care, to be paid the real Living Wage of £9.30 per hour. This would allow careworkers to live with greater dignity and to escape from poverty pay.

    We know that the public, commissioners of social care such as local authorities, employers of care workers, and recipients of care would all like care workers to be paid the real Living Wage, but to do that we need additional investment from the UK Government.

    I really hope we can also count on your support for our campaign. Please let me know whether or not we can add your name to Citizens UK’s Living Wage for Careworkers Charter, which you can find below.

    Citizens UK’s Living Wage for Careworkers Charter:

    We all rely on the one million careworkers on the frontline of the UK’s fight against the pandemic. Careworkers have worked tirelessly throughout Covid-19 to look after the most vulnerable in our society – and have found themselves at risk, often without adequate PPE, and without the esteem afforded to NHS workers.

    Over half of frontline careworkers earn below the voluntary Living Wage of £9.30 an hour (£10.75 in London) and are struggling to keep their heads above water.

    As careworkers, care recipients, care commissioners, council leaders, politicians and community leaders, we all agree that no careworker deserves poverty pay. We have applauded careworkers on Thursday evenings – now is the time to match our applause with a guarantee that they will earn enough to live a decent life.

    We call on the UK Government to provide the £1.4 billion in additional funding so that every care sector worker that delivers publicly funded care can be paid at least the voluntary Living Wage of £9.30 an hour (£10.75 in London).

    Yours sincerely,

    Cllr Alan Hall

     

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    So here we are in Week 16 of our SHA Blog about how the Johnson government is mishandling and mismanaging – except where it comes to the interests of the profit-making private sector – the COVID-19 pandemic; and why the UK is “world beating” – in terms of the highest death rate from COVID in Europe!

    Test and Trace

    The “teething problems” with the centrally designed, and privately contracted, NHS Test and Trace scheme, continues. It is a privatised system organised through the likes of Deloitte, (Deloitte is one of the Big Four accounting organisations in the world, whose business is in financial consultancy.) These private firms put the NHS logo in their own “branding” to try to build public belief, and confidence, that what they are doing is part of the NHS, and in the public’s interest, when it is a private system making lots of money for private investors: in the way that suits them best, rather than the most efficient way it could be done.  .

    It has had a huge investment of taxpayers’ money to employ 20,000 under-used telephone operators who are poorly trained in the complex field of contact tracing.  The Independent SAGE group reports that one contact tracer told them that ‘out of 200 tracers at my agency we have only had 4 contacts to call over the past 4 weeks’. Speaking to worried people and trying to elicit information about their contacts within a system which has not been able to build trust is a genuine challenge. The familiar GP practice or the local hospital and local authority – in which people really do have confidence – have in this “NHS Test and Trace scheme” had to take a back seat. (Readers will recall from previous blogs that the Independent SAGE group was set up in May to provide scientific advice independent of political pressure, after it was reported that Johnson’s “special advisor” Dominic Cummings had attended, and was believed to have influenced, the Government’s “official” Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies. )

    Early problems have been identified in the initial design of diagnostic testing. No NHS number for instance, no occupation or place of work recorded, no ethnicity data and test results not being shared with the GP. The Lighthouse labs set up in Milton Keynes, Alderley Park Cheshire, Cambridge and Glasgow are collaborations between pharmaceutical industries (GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and AstraZeneca), Universities in Cambridge and Glasgow, Boots, Amazon and the Royal Mail alongside the Wellcome Trust. (AstraZeneca owns Alderley Park).

    They were set up to meet the escalating government targets to get testing up to 100K (Hancock) and then to 200K (Johnson) without Ministers being clear about the strategy for testing and ensuring that results got back quickly to people and local players such as GPs and the local Public Health teams who could act. If the objective was just to get tests sent out in the mail or undertaken by Army squaddies in car parks across the country, in order to get the numbers up for the Downing Street briefings, then there was no need to worry about useful information about workplace/occupation? It is not the consortium of laboratories’ fault, as they are contributing to a national emergency, but the political leadership, which has not taken enough notice of public health professionals who have provided laboratory services and integrated themselves with NHS and local public health teams over decades. Public Health England are faced with the nightmare of quality assuring data sent to them from these laboratories.

    Workplaces

    One reason to worry is that incomplete information can lead to a delay in identifying a workplace outbreak. Returning the test result information started at Local Authority level which is not enough information on which to act. After some pressure the local teams have started to get postcode data. However noting a rise in individual cases scattered across West Yorkshire did not help public health officials pin down the common link: which was that they all worked at the Kober Meat Factory in Cleckheaton! These public health systems need to be designed by people who know about public health surveillance, outbreak management and contact tracing. It works best if the tests are undertaken locally, results go back to GPs and local Public Health teams with sufficient information to associate cases with industries, schools, places of worship, community events or food/drink outlets. This is the level of data that would help the public health team in Leicester who are under scrutiny with ‘knowledgeable’ politicians such as Home Secretary Priti Patel declaring the need for a local lockdown in the city. Speed is of the essence, too, as we know that COVID-19 is being transmitted when people do not have symptoms and is most contagious in the first few days of the illness.

    We have known from international data that meat-processing plants are high risk environments for transmission. This is clearly something to do with the damp, cool working environment, which is noisy and so workers have to shout to each other and are often in close proximity. Toilet facilities and rest areas are likely to be cramped and how often they are being cleaned an issue. Furthermore – as we have learnt from Hospital and Care Home outbreaks – how staff get to work will be important to know, too: for example, if they are bussed in together or car sharing, both of those involve being with other people in enclosed spaces.

    As in abattoirs here in the UK and in other parts of the world, jobs like this are usually undertaken by migrant workers. These workers usually live in cramped dormitory type multi-occupation residences. Low paid often migrant workers, who are poorly unionised, are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 contagion whether they work in US meat packing factories or in Germany or indeed in Anglesey (Wales). The 2 Sisters plant in Llangefni for instance has had over 200 workers with positive test results.

    The Tonnies meat processing factory in Germany has had more than 1500 of its workers infected and 7000 people have had to be quarantined as a result of the outbreak. This has had a ripple out effect with schools and kindergartens, which had only recently reopened, having to close again. Unsurprisingly there are stories of the factory being reluctant to share details of the staff, many of whom are Romanian or Bulgarian and speak little German.

    Contact tracing

    The importance of testing and rapid reporting of cases to local agencies was highlighted in a recent South Korean example, where a previously well -controlled situation was threatened by the finding that a series of nightclubs had been linked through one very energetic person. Tracers had to follow up 1700 contacts and be able to control the on-going chain of transmission! While South Korea, unlike the UK, has had a mobile phone app to assist contact tracing, they still depend on the local tracers to use shoe leather rather than computer software to really understand the local patch and the complex community relationships.

    The Independent SAGE group is producing useful analyses and information for us all and has been promulgating the WHO Five elements to test and trace, namely:

    FTTIS – Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support.

    All of these are important and the recent example in Beijing shows again how a rapid local lockdown response was used to implement FTTIS and they appear to have managed to contain the outbreak to one part of this megacity of over 20m people.

    Social distancing

    The Independent SAGE has also recently taken a line critical of the government position on social distancing. They say that the risk of transmission in the UK remains too high to reduce the social distancing guidance. They oppose the move from a 2m guidance to 1m plus and say that it risks multiple local outbreaks, or in the worse case a second wave. The pattern of continuing waves of infection has been seen in the USA, where social distancing has been poorly enforced, and in other countries where a significant second wave has occurred such as Iran.

    The Government is rightly worried about the economic impact of the lockdown and pandemic, but they are sending out mixed messages on social distancing which has led to chaotic scenes on Bournemouth beach, urban celebrations in Liverpool and street parties in many cities. In the USA it has identified the 20-44 year olds as being a group who are testing positive more frequently and we need to send the message out loud and clear that although they may not die from COVID-19 at the rate older people and those with underlying conditions, they are at risk of long term damage to their health and will transmit the virus to other more at-risk people in their families or local communities.

    The Prime Minister always wants to be communicating good news, and needs to beware that the call for more ‘bustle’ on the high streets and ramping up/turbo charging the economy carries big risks of new local outbreaks that will ensure that the Sombrero curve of infection is not flattened, but that we are condemned to live with on-going flare ups across the country.

    Ex Chancellor Kenneth Clarke tweeted recently, in the light of the situation in the UK and the flip flopping on air travel restrictions, that:

    The UK government’s public health policy now seems to be ‘go abroad on holiday, you’ll be safer there!”

    29.6.2020

    Posted by Jean Hardiman Smith on behalf of the Officers and Vice Chairs of theSHA

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    The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has vowed to fight “unthinkable” proposals to cut the budget for the London Fire Brigade by £25m over two years, as part of the Mayor of London’s £500m saving plans.

    The FBU has condemned the “huge damage to the fire service” left over from Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor of London. Central government have so far refused to bail out the GLA’s budget shortfall accrued during the coronavirus pandemic.

    The union has criticised Mayor Sadiq Kahn for “passing on Tory cuts to the very emergency services that keep people safe” and has vowed to hold him to his commitment to protect frontline services.

    David Shek, FBU executive council member for London, said:

    “London is the epicentre of the UK’s building safety crisis and there is no safe way to manage funding cuts of this magnitude. A £25 million cut to London Fire Brigade’s funding is unthinkable and we will fight it to the bitter end.

    “We have just marked the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire and in the years since have dealt with a number of fires in buildings with similar combustible materials. The dangers of cutting the fire and rescue service right now are blatantly obvious.

    “The Mayor has committed to protected frontline emergency services and we will hold him to that. We will not accept any reduction in frontline services – whether that be crewing reductions, shift changes, or a recruitment freeze. Make no mistake – any reduction in fire cover will put lives at risk.”

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

     “The scale of these cuts is devastating and is a gross insult to firefighters in London who have gone above and beyond to support their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The public will not support these cuts, and we intend to fight them.

    “Sadiq Khan made a commitment to protect vital frontline services and he must do that. The government should support regions facing financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19 but there is no excuse for a Labour Mayor to be passing on Tory cuts to the very emergency services that keep people safe across the capital.

    “Boris Johnson did huge damage to the fire and rescue service as London Mayor by pushing through the biggest cuts in history. These cuts impacted the response on the night of the Grenfell Tower fire and the London Fire Brigade has still not fully recovered. To be considering more spending cuts is downright reckless and would show contempt for the public’s safety.

    “This pandemic has demonstrated the value of the fire and rescue service and we should actually be talking about new investment to make the service better and safer. The government must step up to provide whatever financial support is necessary or the prime minister’s talk of ending austerity will ring hollow across London. If that support is not forthcoming, the Mayor must pledge to scrap these dangerous cuts.

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

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    We are now into the 15th weekly blog during the pandemic and confidence in the government is plummeting as the weeks roll on. The UK stands out as the sick man of Europe according to the Economist with the highest excess deaths per million population and with the OECD forecasting the UK as having the highest % decrease in GDP for 2020 compared to a year ago

    Channel 4 broadcast a speech by Prince Charles on Monday (June 22nd), saying how grateful the Nation was to the Windrush Generation who came to staff the NHS and other public services after WW2. Viewers have been horrified by the programmes on TV showing how badly they had been treated under the Hostile Environment policy of Theresa May, and how disproportionately they are currently suffering from Covid-19..

    In this week’s blog we will touch on familiar themes such as the slow rebirth of local test and trace/outbreak control plans, the failure of the world beating NHSX app on the Isle of Wight, the scandal of government contracts for PPE purchases and the revelation that there was indeed a Fenton report on BAME deaths that was withheld.

    BAME

    As protests about Black Lives Matter continue across the country and the world, our Ministers are on a learning curve about the historic slavery/civil rights context of ‘taking the knee’, and that Marcus Rashford is a famous black Man U footballer and English international. The PM and his Cabinet Ministers continually display how out of touch they are.

    Having looked at the Fenton Part 2 report “ ‘Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups’ most people will nod quietly at the eminently sensible recommendations he made which were based on a rapid review of the literature, his group engaging with 4,000 people across the country with direct experience of racism and suggestions about what is to be done. These stakeholders expressed deep dismay, anger, loss and fear in their communities about the emerging findings that BAME groups are being harder hit by COVID-19 than others. This exacerbates existing social, economic and health inequalities.

    Professor Fenton’s report recommends that there be improved ethnicity data collection, more participatory community research, improved access to services, culturally competent risk assessments, education and prevention campaigns. He calls for pandemic recovery plans that are designed to reduce health inequalities caused by the wider determinants of health to create long term sustainable change.  The SHA heartily supports these recommendations and, along with David Lammy MP, demand that the government implements findings from previous BAME related reviews that date as far back as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in 1999.

    We know that inequalities reflect racism and structural factors in society outside health. The Runneymede Trust looked at Pensioners’ Income for the Financial Years 2017-18 and found that Black pensioner families receive almost £200 less a week than white British pensioner families. Black households were the least likely to receive personal pensions. They also found that Black African and Bangladeshi households have approximately 10p for every £1 of white British savings and assets. The figures show that for every £1 a white British family has, Black Caribbean households have about 20p and Black African and Bangladeshi households about 10p. Its not just COVID!

    Test and Trace

    Remember that the Government called a halt to the local test and contact tracing that was happening in early March, claiming that there was too much community transmission for it to have an impact and there were not sufficient local resources to manage the surge? The real reason it has emerged was that there was insufficient test capacity to sustain both NHS hospital testing and testing in care homes and the community. That fateful decision meant that local test and trace schemes were stood down, and did not follow the pandemic by analysing local surveillance and build-local systems. A few weeks ago, quite suddenly, the government recognised the role that such local test and trace schemes might have as the pandemic continued, and demanded that local Directors of Public Health prepare new Local Outbreak Control Plans by the end of June. Thankfully they appointed a CEO from Leeds Council to advise them and quite properly he has been working with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADsPH). At long last local plans are emerging and demands increasing for timely access to test results. Some government investment has been extracted from Deloittes and other consultants and safely invested in local government teams.

    As we have touched on before, the government has been too centralised in its approach and the national testing sites have been ‘out sourced’ to firms in the private sector, such as  SERCO, with Deloittes hovering, and also creaming off profit while mismanaging things. This means that there is undue delay in getting test results back to local teams and the initial contact tracing is being handled by inexperienced call handlers at a distance from the person involved. Remember that COVID-19 has shown us that it affects older people, people in care homes, people of BAME heritage and those from the most disadvantaged communities in the UK, disproportionately badly . I wonder what advice scientists might have given about the most effective way of reaching the most at risk people? Surely by now we know that, despite apps and complicated ventilators, health care is still a people business.  Skilled and empathetic care workers matter. Meanwhile GPs and primary care are bystanders to this world beating system and local public health teams are frustrated at step one of outbreak control, namely information about who has relevant symptoms and whether they have tested positive.

    The app!

    The app the app my kingdom for an app!’ It is alleged that people have heard the scream from the SoS who has a boyish interest and naïve faith in apps and other digital technologies. The ‘world beating’ app being developed in the exceptionally clever UK and tested on the Isle of Wight has bitten the dust. Stories are now emerging about the errors and misjudgements that there have been on the way. Developers of successful apps, such as that of Prof Tim Spector of Kings College London which now has 3.5m users, tells us that the NHSX treated his research teams as the enemy. They told him that far from collaborating, their world beating all singing and dancing app would make his redundant. In case we think this is just Tim Spector we hear that Ian Gass of Agitate tried to tell the NHSX in March that its app design, which tried to use Bluetooth signals was flawed. He describes this weird almost paranoid state, where the government says publicly that they’re asking for help, but then rejects it when it is offered.

    PPE contracts

    With the PPE supplies debacle we also heard the refrain that the government was inviting local UK companies to help produce PPE for the NHS and Social Care. Company boss after company boss reported trying and failing to make contact with government commissioners. It seems that it is only the insiders who get the contracts. Some previously small companies like PestFix are under scrutiny having won contracts with a value of £110m. This amount is nearly a third of the £342m public sector contracts signed for COVID-related PPE.

    We are pleased that Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee is taking evidence on these contracts. MPs have said rightly that the pandemic crisis should not be an excuse for failing to achieve value for money.

    And finally

    We started this blog with a reference to a report in the right wing leaning Economist magazine. It is extraordinary that their leader in the June 20th-26th edition under the banner heading ‘Not Britain’s finest hour’ should say:

    The painful conclusion is that Britain has the wrong sort of government for a pandemic – and in Boris Johnson, the wrong sort of prime minister…

    ….beating the coronavirus calls for attention to detail, consistency and implementation…..

    The pandemic has many lessons for the government, which the inevitable public inquiry will surely clarify. Here is one for voters: when choosing a person or party to vote for, do not under-estimate the importance of ordinary, decent competence.”

    Hear hear.

    22.6.2020

    Posted by Jean Hardiman Smith on behalf of the Officers and Vice Chairs of the SHA.

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    So we are into our 14th weekly blog tracking our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many issues which we have raised before which remain relevant over the past week. The most notable are the continuing blunders by the Johnson government, intent on appearing to have a strategy and being in control. The podium politics continue with premature announcements blurted out as intent, without having checked out their feasibility with professional advisers. The schools debacle was always couched in terms of recalcitrant Trade Unions rather than the fact that our school buildings have lacked investment over decades, class sizes are high and teacher staffing relatively low. This means that you cannot reduce class sizes to enable social distancing in the buildings you have available! A simple estimate of size of buildings, number of children and staffing levels would have demonstrated that this was always going to be a challenge before taking account of the risks of transmission to teachers and back via children and staff to people’s homes. The embarrassing retreat could have been avoided and the stress on schools reduced by consulting those that know how the system runs. Meanwhile schools are open to vulnerable children and greater efforts can be made to get them back in the school setting.

    A similar fiasco has emerged in health when, suddenly and belatedly worried about outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes, the government decides to direct all NHS staff in patient/public facing roles to wear surgical facemasks and all visitors to wear facemasks. Imagine the planning this requires and the supplies that will be needed to sustain it! PPE and the scarcity of medical facemasks has been a story throughout the pandemic. But there was no consultation with the NHS before the announcement on a Friday evening.

    As for Test, Trace and Isolate (TTI) this has had a ‘wobbly’ start, as rather than trusting in local Directors of Public Health (DsPH) to build local teams that local laboratories can report to quickly, they have sidestepped the service and asked private contractors, with no prior experience, to set up a telephone answering/contact tracer service. Training has been very basic and it is not delivering the timely communication needed to ensure cases isolate themselves and their contacts traced urgently by local staff. In the ‘post-Cummings stay alert era’ it is already emerging that people may have less commitment to listen to government guidance, and when the lockdown is easing will be reluctant to stay off work and name their contacts who may be in a similar position.

    BAME and Inequalities

    Two issues, which we have raised before, are the need to address racism in our society and its link to general inequalities. The Black Lives Matter movement is trying to ensure that the government does not whitewash this issue and hide behind statistical methods which try to discount the fact that BAME communities are over represented in disadvantaged groups and have additional pressures on them that arise from racism in society, in key organisations and in the individuals they interact with.

    We have seen an extraordinary example of institutional racism over the process of publication of the Public Health England (PHE) report on Disparities in risks and outcomes of COVID-19.

    This report was commissioned by the government, ‘from the podium’ in Downing Street, when confronted by the announcements of deaths related to COVID-19 where BAME people have been heavily over represented. The NHS employs many BAME staff but did not expect to hear that while 44% of NHS doctors are from BAME groups they accounted for 90% of deaths of doctors. BAME nurses are 20% of the workforce but account for 75% of deaths. So Ministers appointed Prof Fenton a senior Public Health Director in PHE to lead the review. This provided some comfort to the BAME communities, as Fenton is an articulate and experienced black health professional able to access the views of BAME communities to deepen our understanding of what was happening to lead to these extraordinary outcomes.

    In the event publication of the report, which had been delivered by Fenton and PHE as promised by the end of May, had been delayed. Professor Fenton had been booked to lead a webinar for the Local Government Association (LGA) on Tuesday 2nd June fully expecting to be able to refer to his report. He seemed unaware that the report would not be published by the Government, without it being clear that this was the Fenton Report, until a couple of hours later, and even then without it being clear that the publication was the Fenton Report. What has subsequently emerged is that the section of his report that starts to address the pathways that lead to these huge differences in health outcome had been taken out of the report without consultation. This was hugely disappointing to the many hundreds of individuals and organisations who had contacted him and the review team during their rapid review process. The LGA webinar had been hosted by colleagues in Birmingham, and both the local Director of Public Health for Birmingham and the Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, Cllr Hamilton, were clearly engaged in providing insight and proposals as to how to start to address the challenges.

    Of course we do not yet fully understand the shenanigans that have gone on but suspect that someone else was asked to edit the report and effectively take out all the challenging political bits and resort to a dry re-publication of some of the statistics which we knew about and which had led to the inquiry itself! This new epidemiological input seemed determined to try and account for as much as possible of the higher mortality by apparently neutral factors such as co-morbidities, occupational risk, living in cities and relative deprivation. Such findings had been submitted by a SAGE report at the end of April, which had not been peer reviewed or published. This attempt to explain away the disparities seriously misses the point about racism and how it works through cumulative lifetime risks. Treating Prof Fenton in this way exhibits a form of institutional racism that no doubt the Ministers, and the experts drawn into stripping the report of its insights into how racism works, do not grasp.

    Despite taking account of sex, age, deprivation and region in England people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British. By stripping out other factors an attempt has been made to soften the data impact and bin the feedback from local communities based on their life experience and the specific experience with COVID-19.

    Other countries have shown that there is an overrepresentation of black people amongst hospitalised patients. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, for example, that: in New York City death rates from COVID-19 among black/African American people was, 92/100,000 and Hispanic/Latino people 74. These rates are substantially higher than the 45/100,000 for the white population and 34 for Asians.

    Back in the UK, if you look outside the health sphere you see similar data in the criminal justice system. The BAME population make up 14% of the population yet 51% of inmates of the youth justice system. Stop and search records show that black people have 38 searches /1000 population compared to 4 for the white population. They are also more likely to be arrested with 35/1000 for the black population compared to 10 for the white population. The black population are five times more likely to be restrained and twice as likely to die in custody. Looking specifically at the black population rather than BAME groups as a whole they account for 3.3% of the population and 12% of the prison population. Black people make up 1.2% of police officers while 93% are of white ethnicity (Sunday Times, 14th June).

    This information has been well known to the black populations of most of our cities since well before the 1981 riots in Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side, Handsworth and Chapeltown, let alone the Black Lives Matter protests of 2000.

    Inequalities

    The Office of National Statistics (ONS) still manage to produce reports that have not been politically edited in the way that Fenton’s was, and they have published a review on inequalities and COVID-19. This shows that the most deprived areas of England have more than twice the rate of death from COVID-19 than the least deprived. In the period from the 1st March until the 31st May the death rates were 128/100,000 for the most deprived compared to 58.8 for the least deprived. This inequality continues to be proportionately high and is mirrored in Wales too where they measure multiple deprivation differently (WIMD) yet still show a contrast between 109/100,000 for the more deprived populations compared to 57.5 in the least deprived. Both nations show a gradient across the groups, which is the important point that Marmot and others have made that inequality is not just something that influences the socially excluded groups but adversely affects the whole society from top to bottom.

    The SHA has consistently argued that we need to seriously address the social determinants of health and wellbeing. We also recognise the work that Marmot has done globally with the message that where we live, learn, work and play affects our health. The conditions in which people live, learn, work, and play contribute to their health. These conditions over time lead to different levels of health risks, needs and outcomes among people in certain racial and ethnic minority groups.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America use this approach to set out how these determinants might be tackled despite the fact that the Trump administration is deaf and blind to their advice!

    The international response to the George Floyd murder on the street in Minneapolis must be built on to turn these daily injustices around. The Black Lives Matter campaign needs support.

    As Labour’s David Lammy MP says:

    We can’t just look back in 5 years and remember George Floyd as a hashtag. We have to find a way to transform this righteous anger into meaningful reform’.

    15th June 2020

    Posted by Jean Hardiman Smith on behalf of the Officers and Vice Chairs of the SHA.

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    On the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said firefighters will not accept another year of inaction on building safety.

    The FBU has called for an end to “a politics that values profit over people”, condemning “endless promises, excuses, and platitudes” from government.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “Firefighters do all that they can to protect human life and the loss of 72 people at Grenfell was deeply traumatic for them as well as for all those others directly affected by the fire. Today, a community and their firefighters grieve. But we will not accept another year of inaction.

    “Three years on, we have heard endless promises, excuses, and platitudes from government, but the reality on the ground has not changed.

    “Half a million of people are trapped in unsafe homes and across the country another Grenfell could happen tomorrow, potentially where fire services are not as well resourced. Every day that the government fails to tackle the building safety crisis is another day that residents’ lives are being put at risk.

    “While the world has faced up to the coronavirus pandemic, the inquiry into the Grenfell atrocity has been put on hold, giving the companies and politicians responsible more time still to avoid scrutiny.

    “It was decades of deregulation, privatisation, and austerity that allowed Grenfell to take place, with a politics that values profit over people. When the economy restarts, we must not fall prey to the failed arguments of the past that led to this horrendous loss of life. “

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

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    ECONOMIC RECOVERY

    But is it also time to share ideas about the contribution the H &SC sector can make to strategies for economic renewal press for some imaginative new ideas for jobs, training and service delivery just as the PM is about to announce how the economy can revive?  Can we not present our future Health and Care Service as a part of the transformation the economy needs as it tries to get people back to work  – greener, fairer and more equal.

    How? New kinds of training and apprenticeships to provide career pathways to and between professions, and between health and social care that will be attractive to the many unemployed and to school leavers? Apprenticeships to help with retrofitting hospitals and health care sites to make them carbon neutral? New forms of procurement in the health sector which create social benefit (see how our failing garment industry has turned to scrubs)? Buying from independent local food producers helping create a more sustainable agriculture? A complete rethink of transport for hospital staff and patients now that we must get more cars off the road? I am sure others can do better at spotting ways in which the sector as well as needing more money  can be a  contributor to the new kind of society in which we want to live.

    TEST, TRACE, ISOLATE

    Test, contact trace and isolate   Our local members, SHA and Defend our NHS Wirral are hopping mad about the way the government has deliberately side-lined local public health, university facilities and even the Crick Institute – all those skilled personnel in favour of the multi million contracts being handed without scrutiny to their cronies like Serco, G4S etal.  And they are making such a complete hash of it too with their apps, call centres and unskilled minimum wage staff   Families are bereaved, valuable lives dust-binned.


    The track and trace system looks to be the next government disaster in their mismanagement of this pandemic.

    Firstly, I was astonished they gave up so early on trace and trace, particularly in areas outside of London and Birmingham that had low prevalence in March and early April. It does seem to have been a mixture of poor coordination, absence of preparation for the testing ( when you dont have a vaccine or a treatment but you have a test….)

    That they have not used the ‘down time’ to establish organised units around PHE and DPH units seems a missed opportunity.

    Contact tracing is specialist sensitive work; TB, food poisoning and sexual health. Trust and local knowledge are vital particularly if the tail end of the epidemic is to prevent break through outbreaks – this is the daily work of a health protection department.

    Setting up an entirely new system at this time seems folly, rather than building and expanding/ scaling up from existing established core services. This is what was done for H1N1 in 2009. From a report in Bloomberg this seems to be what has happened n Germany.

    I suspect there is going to be a delay in transfer of results – which with this disease’s ‘sneaky symptomless infectious period will make the system inefficient in getting on top of local breakthrough outbreaks, that will have a particular situational (going on a BLM demo) or organisational ( in say a post sorting room) context where investigation will be most effectively carried out through a local control centre of a health protection team.

    Information Governance and Track, Trace and Isolate

    The question that the team should pursue is ; what is the arrangements for information governance and has the

    System established by the central scheme been reviewed against Caldicott Guardian principles. (Is the track and trace part of the NHS system of protecting patient confidentiality.)? Dido Harding who leads the English programme has form with poor information governance  – she was CEO with Talk Talk when over 4 million

    Clients got their personal data hacked.

    Dido Harding

    Why Harding was appointed should also be pursued; she is a horse racing enthusiast, like Matt Hancock and is a Jockey Club Board member that will have supported the running of the Cheltenham Festival. A chance to catch the horse that bolted. But best person to lead?


    As a semi-retired GP and having lost access to my normal work following lockdown I decided to join the ranks of the (I understand) 6000 or so professionals signed up for the Test and Trace scheme. I received some welcoming emails from NHS Professionals (NHSP) and also Sitel, the call centre contractor responsible for the system. I was told I could log into NHSP’s training platform but after numerous attempts, my credentials did not work. After an hour on hold to a helpline, I was told that I needed instead to access the training modules on eLFH. I duly did this and completed several mandatory training (safeguarding, information governance, etc.) modules and some online presentations on how the system works. as well as some documents with the script I was supposed to follow in given circumstances.

    I was all ready to start contacting people who had received positive tests and, using the proscribed script, check with them who their recent contacts had been. At 8 o’clock last Monday I duly logged into the four software platforms I needed for this work and was informed I had no contacts to call. I therefore sat and did some emails, looked at some more training material and at the end of the 4 hour shift had still had no- one to call.

    I was disappointed with this experience but decided as this was supposed to be the first day the system went live (before Matt Hancock had decided he could announce it was live the previous Thursday) it was too early to have picked up many positive cases. I had another shift booked on Wednesday and duly logged in again to find there was 1 case to call. I brought up this record and called the number- it went to voicemail. I called again a minute or two later, still voicemail, so I left the message according to the script and scheduled a call back a couple of hours later. The appointed time arrived and the case was no longer on my list…  I hope someone else had picked up the case and called. The rest of the four hour shift turned up no more cases.

    I decided I needed to book some more shifts so looked at the NHSP calendar; there were no shifts available for the next two weeks. I did manage to find a shift to book in a couple of weeks’ time but looking again now, there is nothing available for the whole of the rest of June or July.

    Maybe this system is working so efficiently they’ve got more contact tracers than they need or, more likely, the system just isn’t picking up all the positive tests and feeding them through and it is yet another example of Tory ‘world beating’ hype.

    CONTRACTS WITH PRIVATE COMPANIES

    • What private companies have been awarded contracts to provide goods or services to or on behalf of the NHS between February and the current date?
    • What goods or services have each of these contracts been for?
    • What is the value of each of of these contracts?

    Why are we giving public money to private companies like Serco, which has been fined for defrauding govt, when many scientists argue that university and NHS public labs could as quickly cope with the tests?   Is it because they have contributed to the Tory party?  What about accountability to the British people?

    PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES

    • How many people with learning disabilities living in either i) NHS or ii) private hospitals or iii) care homes have died with covid-19
    • What is the excess death rate for people with learning disabilities in each of the above settings for the period February – End of May 2020?

    RELEASING PROFESSIONAL STAFF AT THE NO 10 MEETING

    Another point I think the team should push is releasing the professional staff from their daily ‘lockdown’ in No 10 at their press conference. Ministers should do this on their own and officials should operate to traditional civil service principles – heard but not seen.  With crumbling trust of the politicians, it is infecting professional staff; CMO etc.

    OPENING SCHOOLS

    How is it possible to open schools and unlock when testing and tracing is not up and running efficiently?

    EXCESS DEATHS

    Can Labour question why excess deaths last week showed that UK has the highest figures for deaths after Peru in the world? Not quite the excellent response the PM is arguing.

    TAKE THE NHS OUT OF ANY TRADE DEALS WITH THE US

    The faith and gratitude expressed to our NHS staff in the present pandemic is beyond belief, and CV19 is the unwelcome political experiment to have tested state versus private efficiency and enterprise in health care. In the light of this will you be insisting that the government withdraw the NHS from any participation in Trade talks with the USA – it is not even Trade, after all. I have suggested to our MP that a legal instrument is needed to protect it.*

    To Craig Mackinlay MP: Public support for our NHS must be near total at the present time as the only way of saving millions of lives from Covid19. By contrast , the USA has effectively no health service. Worse still the USA cut two thirds of its hospital beds in the last 45 years, because they were ‘unprofitable’ . US health costs are soaring by 2,4% cumulatively per year. 28 million USA citizens have no health whatsoever. Last year half of all citizens cancelled or delayed their medical care because of cost. This is third world health in the richest state in the world

    Our government recently published its Trade Bill – the legislation that sets out the basis of future trade negotiations after Brexit. Unfortunately, it currently does not contain any protection whatsoever for our NHS, despite Boris Johnson’s repeated promises.

    I am writing to ask you to table or support any amendments to the trade bill to introduce specific protections for our NHS. Right now, it is automatically “on the table” in trade talks, and this won’t change until it is explicitly taken off in the trade bill. We cannot risk our NHS which is performing so magnificently in this crisis, to be sold off to a US medical insurance company.

    Clapping hands on the street won’t protect it: only our democratic representatives can do that. Please help save our NHS.

    1 Comment

    This is now our 13th weekly Socialist Health Association Blog about the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our observations and predictions have sadly come true. The leadership group of the UK Tory government remains extremely weak, without a clear strategy or plan of action. Policy announcements at the Downing Street briefings are aimed at achieving media headlines. The Prime Minister has declared that he is taking charge but on questioning in Parliament was unclear who had been in charge up to this point!

    In this Blog we look at the poor political and scientific leadership and lack of a credible strategy; the faltering start of Test Trace and Isolate (TTI); the demands for an urgent independent inquiry of the pandemic and financial audit of government investments in the private sector; and solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

    Lonely Ministers

    The last Downing Street briefing on Friday the 5th June found Matt Hancock (the Secretary of State in charge of the nation’s health) on his own, reading out the slides and reporting on the continuing high number of new cases and relentless roll call of COVID-19 related deaths. The PMs ‘sombrero’ epidemic curve’ has been suppressed but not flattened as it has in other countries in Europe. Deaths remain stubbornly high here as care home outbreaks continue to spread with 50% now affected and there is belated recognition that hospitals and care homes are places of work where transmission occurs. Transmission occurs between staff, patients/residents, within households and the local community.

    The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has challenged the way that statistics are presented at these briefings, and are arguably MISLEADING the public. Remember the international evidence presented on deaths, which was fine when we were on the nursery slopes of the epidemic but became embarrassing when we overtook Italy, France and Spain? World beating in terms of total deaths was probably not what the PM had in mind. Last week the total number of deaths in the UK exceeded that of all the EU(27) countries put together. We are now flying alongside Trump (USA), Bolsanaro (Brazil), Modi (India) and will shortly be joined I expect by Putin (Russia) as a group of the world’s worst performers.

    One of the areas of misrepresenting statistics that has exercised the UKSA has been reporting the number of daily tests. We have drawn attention in earlier blogs to how ridiculous it is to snatch a large round number out of the air and declare it as a target. And so it was with the 100,000 tests per day target and more recently the PMs 200,000 target. The challenge of meeting the Government targets meant that officials and private contractors started to count tests sent out in the post to households rather than completed tests. This was rephrased as test capacity. A similar change in data definition happened when we approached the end of May grasping for the 200,000 target. Suddenly antibody tests and the swabbing antigen tests were both included in the total figure. Ministers did not mention that that these tests have different applications and many thousands are used as part of epidemiological surveys rather than diagnostic tests on individuals as part of track and trace.

    What is the strategy?

    There are calls from politicians and in the media for there to be an urgent and time limited independent inquiry into what has gone wrong here. This is not to punish individuals but actually to help us learn lessons urgently and maybe make changes to the way we are conducting ourselves ahead of a possible second wave. One thing that is missing is a clear strategy that government sticks to and criteria that are adhered to in decision making. The Cummings affair has been a disgraceful example of double standards but the acceleration of changes in opening up the economy, increasing lockdown freedoms and reopening schools are examples where the scientific advice and the published 5 stage criteria are being disregarded. Wuhan eased their lockdown when RO was 0.2. (RO or R zero, where R is the reproductive value, the measure used to track how many people, on average, will be infected for every one person who has the disease.)

    Led by the science?

    The other noticeable change has been the change of mood amongst the scientists advising government through the SAGE committees. Many of them now seem willing to speak directly to the mainstream media and engage in social media interactions. The Independent SAGE group that we referred to last week has become the preferred source of scientific advice for many people. It has been interesting to see how many Local Authorities and their Directors of Public Health (DsPH)have not been urging schools to open up if not ready and the local RO is near or at 1.0. The Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) has lost control and must be reflecting nostalgically back to when he was at GSK earning his £780,000 pa salary (Ref. Private Eye). But he has managed to shovel a shedload of resources to old colleagues and friends in the industry involved in the endeavour to develop a safe and effective vaccine ‘game changer’.

    The CSA was absent from duty last Friday and so too the CMO and his two deputies. One wonders whether this is a short lived change but maybe they too realise that that they are being set up with the SAGE advisers to take the blame for the UK’s dismal record. The CMO needs urgently to catch up with his public profile and face the media on his own and build some trust with the population, now anxious to be able to believe in someone at the centre of government decision making. Finally there is the NHSE Medical Director who could not be there – no doubt to be the one to remain standing when the SoS announced at 5pm on a Friday evening that all staff in the NHS should wear surgical face masks and all visitors to wear face coverings! An impossible  logistical and supply issue for an organisation which employs over a million workers in many different settings of care. And there was no consultation with the leaders of the NHS or Professional bodies such as the RCN and Medical Royal Colleges or Trade Unions like the BMA/Unite. What a shambolic way to run things – you couldn’t make it up!

    Test, Trace and Isolate (TTI)

    Test, Trace and Isolate (TTI) continues to have a difficult ‘rebirth’ from when it was put down in mid March with a comment from a deputy CMO as a public health approach more suited to third world countries. Baroness Dido Harding (past Talk Talk CEO and wife of Tory MP John Penrose) is meant to be leading this.  She had an uncomfortable time at the Health Select Committee when she had to admit that she had no idea how many contacts had been traced by the 25,000 tracers who had been fiddling on their home computers for days after having self administered their on line training. Typically Ministers had announced the launch of TTI to the usual fanfare and she had to admit that the end of June was a more likely date for an operational launch.

    It is extraordinary that the programme is being run by private contractors, who have had no prior relevant experience. We are already witnessing the dysfunction in passing timely, quality assured information to Public Health England and local DsPH. Local public health contact tracing teams need information on names, addresses, ages and test results to get started on mapping the spatial location of cases, exploring their occupations and contact history. Local contact tracers may need to actually visit these people to encourage compliance after the Cummings affair. They should really get this information straight from local laboratories and be resourced to employ local contact tracers familiar with the local area.  Local DsPH would then look for support from the regional PHE team and not be dependent on the PHE or the GCHQ- sounding Joint Biosecurity Centre.

    This is what happened in Germany, where local health offices (Gesundheitsamter) were mobilised and local furloughed staff and students were employed to form local teams. We have positive examples of local government being proactive too such as in Ceredigion in Wales where rates have been kept extremely low. In the post-Cummings era local teams will get drawn into discussions about the civic duty to disclose contacts and of adhering to isolation/quarantining. Difficult for an anonymous call handler to undertake against the background sounds of Vivaldi.

    Auditing misuse of public funds

    One aspect that an independent inquiry will need to look at is the investment of public funds into private companies without due diligence, proper contracting and insider dealing. We have already referred to the vaccine development and governments and philanthropic organisations have provided over $4.4bn to pharmaceutical organisations for R&D for COVID-19 vaccines. No information is available about the access to vaccine supplies and affordability as a precondition of the funding. The deal with the Jenner Institute at Oxford and AstraZeneca has received £84m from the UK government. Apparently AstraZeneca owns the intellectual property rights and can dictate the price (Ref: Just Treatment). We gather that the company has refused to share the trial data with a WHO initiative to pool COVID-19 knowledge! National governments cannot manage alone this longstanding problem with global pharmaceutical companies who are often unwilling to invest in needed but unprofitable disease treatments, even though they often receive public funds and benefit from close links with University Researchers and Health Service patients and their data. There need to be global frameworks to govern such investment decisions.

    BAME communities and COVID

    We have referred in previous Blogs to the higher risks of developing severe illness and death in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. The Prof Fenton report was finally published this week as a Public Health England report. The report is a useful digest of some key data on COVID-19 and BAME populations and confirms the higher relative risks of severe illness and death in these populations. The report steps back from emphasising the extremely high risks of death by accounting for other factors such as age, sex, deprivation and region. Even taking these factors into account they find that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had twice the risk than people of White ethnicity. Other South Asian groups such as those of Indian, Pakistani or Afro-Caribbean descent had between 10-50% higher risk of death.

    There has been some controversy about whether this report was edited heavily by Ministers, and in particular whether sections that might discuss structural issues of racism had been cut. Certainly by taking ‘account of’ deprivation and place of residence or region it is possible to choose not to see racism as part of health inequality. Many people will remember the early evidence from Intensive Care Units, which showed that while BAME communities make up 14% of the overall population they accounted for 35% of the ITU patients. How can we forget in the early stages of the pandemic, seeing the faces of NHS workers who had died from COVID? You did not have to be a statistician to notice that the majority of the faces seemed to be BAME people. The BMA have pointed out that BAME doctors make up 44% of NHS doctors but have accounted for 90% of deaths of doctors.

    To be fair, the NHS was quick to send a message out across the health system asking that risk assessments be done taking account of individual risks such as ethnicity, co-morbidities such as obesity/diabetes as well as occupational exposure to risk of transmission. Adequate supply of PPE and good practice does work as very few if any ITU staff have succumbed. As ever it is likely to be the nursing assistants, cleaners, porters, or reception staff who get forgotten.

    The recent demonstrations of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign in the light of the dreadful murder of George Floyd under the knees of US policemen is a reminder that there is a global and long standing issue of racism. The government and all organisations including the NHS need to reflect on the findings of the McPherson report (1999) following the death of Stephen Lawrence that defined institutional racism as:

    The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’.

    We must work to rid our country of racism in individuals, communities,  organisations and government. It will only be achieved through commitment throughout the life course and by stamping out racism and inequalities to achieve a fairer society for all our people.

    7.6.2020

    Posted by Jean Hardiman Smith on behalf of the Officers and Vice Chairs of the SHA.

    2 Comments

    This is the twelfth week of the SHA COVID-19 blog in which we have responded to emerging issues in the pandemic response, from a politics and health perspective. As it stands the UK has performed “like lions led by donkeys”. The NHS and care home staff, plus all the other essential workers in shops, delivering mail and answering phones have been heroic, risking their lives, working long hours and generally going well above and beyond the call of duty, supported by armies of volunteers, delivering food to neighbours, sewing protective clothing, organising suitably distanced entertainment, and generally rising to the occasion. While the Tory Government, led by Johnson “advised” by Cummings, on the other hand, has done very badly in comparison to the governments of some of our European neighbours as well as many countries further away in Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

    Germany and Greece 

    UK government advisers have told us that the UK could not easily be compared with Germany. This was a surprise to most people as Germany, France and the UK have over many years had comparable levels of social and economic development. We have drawn attention in earlier Blogs to Germany’s quick response to lockdown, how it closed its borders and uses test and trace widely with leadership in regional Public Health departments. The latest data shows that Germany, with a population of 83m people, has had 8,500 deaths which is a crude death rate of 10/100,000 population. This compares very favourably to the UK, with a population of 68m, which has had 38,400 deaths with a crude death rate of 58/100,000. The UK was slow to lockdown, has not closed its borders but promises to introduce quarantining in a weeks time and is struggling to introduce test, track and isolate having not developed its local public health capacity.

    So if we don’t compare well to Germany – what about relatively poor Greece which has in recent years been ridden with national debt? Greece locked down in early March, before many cases were identified and ahead of any COVID-19 related deaths. They enforced lockdown vigorously, closed schools and for their population of 11m, they have had 175 deaths at a population crude death rate of 1.6/100,000. They have now been opening up in comparative safety with shops on May 4th and shopping Malls on the 18th May along with Archaeological sites. They are now advertising for summer tourists to come from countries like Germany and Eastern Europe: but from the UK only if we get COVID under control!

    Test, trace and isolate

    The COVID-19 SARS virus has many troubling characteristics, such as its infectivity while people are not showing symptoms and its ability to cause serious systemic illness in adults and particularly older people. However it behaves much like other respiratory viruses; transmission can be blocked by isolating infected people, hand washing, cleaning surfaces and maintaining physical distance from others to prevent droplet/aerosol spread. Facemasks have also been shown to reduce spread from individuals hosting the virus in their nose and throat. These control measures are not ‘modern’ or technically complex – they are basic public health interventions to prevent infectious diseases spreading and they have been shown to work over many years. The government’s belated control measures, such as stay at home, isolate and maintain social distancing, use these infection control measures. They have worked as infection rates have reduced but are in danger of now being undermined.

    The testing process has been problematic, as we have said before, not least in the slow pace of increasing capacity. In order to try and catch up politicians have plucked large round numbers out of the sky, announced them at the Downing Street briefings without any explanation as to why that number and how it all fits together strategically.  They then commission inexperienced private sector consultancies and contractors to try and build a new system of testing de novo, which has also involved Army squaddies to deliver. This has led to serious organisational and quality problems, results taking too long to be useful, and not being fed back to the people who need to know other than the patient, namely GPs, local Public Health England teams and local Directors of Public Health. The big question has always been why did they not invest in the PHE system to scale up and at the same time invest in local NHS laboratories to tool up? Local NHS laboratories could have worked with university research labs and local private sector laboratories in the area to utilise machinery and skilled staff. This new capacity would have built on established NHS and Public Health systems and avoided the confusion and dysfunction. The answer is they decided to save the money! They chose to ignore the findings of Cygnus, which foretold all this, because they were intent on cutting the funding of the NHS to the bone and privatising everything that could be turned into a profit-making enterprise.

    Tracing contacts is a long standing public health function often done from sexual health and other NHS clinics but also in local authority-based Environmental Health departments, which are used to visiting premises where food is handled, and following up outbreaks of food poisoning and infectious diseases. GPs are also used to being part of the infectious disease control procedures with Sentinel Practices, set up to provide early warning of infectious diseases such as meningococcal meningitis and helping to track e.g. influenza incidence in the community. It should NOT have been left until LAST WEEK to start seriously engaging with local public health departments and their local microbiology laboratories and primary care! These local leaders and partners should have, as in Germany, been what the community control of the pandemic was built on. This did not need to wait for SERCO to set up a telephone answering service and train people on you tube videos with a malfunctioning (and in some areas totally non-functioning) IT system.

    Typically the Government made an announcement that Tracing was going to start before arrangements were in place, and local Directors of Public Health were left to make bids for investment after the starting gun had been fired! To this day the data that ‘comes down’ to local level is from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Public Health England (PHE) and is on a Local Authority population level. There is no postcode or other data that would help local surveillance and understanding where infected people live or indeed where deaths have already taken place.

    The NHS has data by GP practice and hospital, but again there remain issues about identifying where those individual patients reside, who have been hospitalised or, sadly, died. These data could be analysed but that job has not been undertaken and so Directors of Public Health do not have the “Information Dashboard” (or data visualisation software) they need to be credible local leaders in the testing, tracing and isolating work that needs to be done to monitor the local situation and intervene with control measures. Hopefully we are on the road to getting a more balanced approach with national standards and the introduction of a mobile app to support contact tracing. Why did the government not learn lessons from South Korea, Singapore and Germany where they have been successful?

    Independent SAGE

    SAGE is the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies which is supposed to be independent. The SHA is delighted that Sir David King has taken the initiative and established a credible Independent SAGE group. We are pleased to see that SHA President Professor Allyson Pollock has been invited to contribute as well as others known to be supportive of our approach such as Professor Gabrielle Scally a former regional Director of Public Health and public health adviser to Andy Burnham.

    The way that the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) have been played into the Downing Street briefings has been problematic and the secrecy behind who was giving the government scientific and public health advice and what specifically that advice was has been exposed as unacceptable. The CSA has belatedly started to share the membership and minutes (suitably redacted of course) but this has only come about because of political pressure. The SHA were not alone in expressing horror that Dominic Cummings (Johnson’s senior special advisor or SPAD) and his sidekick Ben Warner were allowed to attend these meetings and in fact intervene in the debates! It is the job of the CSA to Chair the meetings of SAGE and discuss the advice for Government, and then summarise the advice for the politicians.

    The independent SAGE group has a very different outlook and its aims are to:

    1. Provide clear and transparent reasons for government policy
    2. Remove ambiguity – messages should be very precise about what behaviours are needed, how they should be carried out and in what circumstances.
    3. Develop detailed, personalised advice that can be tailored to specific groups of people and specific situations depending on their risk from infection.
    4. Messaging should emphasise collective action, promoting community cohesion and emphasising a sense of civic duty and a responsibility to protect others.
    5. Avoid any appearance of unfairness or inconsistency. Any easing from lockdown must be clearly communicated and explained to prevent loss of trust in the Government.

    By adopting this SAGE Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (SPI-B) terms of reference it is hard for government to be critical! In response to recent government decisions on easing lockdown and opening primary schools further the independent SAGE group finds that:

    “We have already been critical of the recent change in the content of the messages from Government, from the clarity of ‘Stay at Home’ to the vagueness of ‘Stay Alert’ (breaching recommendations 1-3). Now there is a clear risk that the gain delivered from the long period of lockdown will be lost as a result of recent events, further breaching recommendations 4 and 5, with the potential that many take less seriously current and further public health messages from the Government.  The recommendation about collective action is especially important in rebuilding trust that has been eroded.  Working in close and respectful partnership with organisations across society including those representing disadvantaged communities and working people will be vital in this process”.

    The new group will also work in a more transparent way by engaging in:

    “an open debate on the topics on the agenda. This evidence session was live streamed on Youtube so the public can see the evidence presented and understand the debate within the scientific community on the most appropriate course of action for the UK government”.

    We will “provide a series of evidence-based recommendations for the UK government based on global best practice”.

    When should a School Reopen?

    The Independent SAGE group have published their report on school reopening after their public hearing:

    “We all found hearing directly from the public incredibly valuable, and have updated our report accordingly by:

    • Developing a risk assessment tool to help schools and families work together to make return as safe as possible
    • Emphasising further the importance of providing a full educational experience for children as soon as possible – including the many children who will not be returning to school soon. This should include educational opportunities for children over the summer holidays, through a combination of online learning, summer camps and open-air activities. Teachers cannot be the primary workforce for such activities and other options such as scout leaders, sport coaches and other roles should be explored.
    • Explaining further the risks of reopening for children, staff and communities based on our modelling and taking into account SAGE modelling released on 22nd May
    • Emphasising the need to support black and minority ethnic (BAME) and disadvantaged communities, whose members are at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID19.

    The group went on to say that the decisions to reopen schools should be done on a case-by-case basis in partnership with local communities. They pointed out the risks of going too early while recognising the needs of children who remain at home and their right to education.

     

    What is the strategy, the science and where are we going?

    There is increasing concern that the government have lost the plot and are now making sudden decisions based on the Prime Minister’s wish to move the debate on from the appalling behaviour of Dominic Cummings his adviser. We have lost the step-by-step changes undertaken with care, built on the published science and giving time for organisations to adapt and respond to the new requirements. There is a pattern of behaviour – policy announcement incontinence – amongst Ministers asked to attend the Downing Street briefings. Announce on Sunday evening, flanked by advisers, and expect delivery to start on Monday morning!

    The English CMO seems locked into this format, which has disabled him from establishing a rapport with the public. His advice and the advice of other CMOs across the UK is meant to be independent professional advice on public health and health care. Similarly the CSA should be there to report on the SAGE findings and recommendations. There is no reason for them to both attend as sentinels at these briefings. Indeed it would be welcome for the CMO to illustrate his independence to have regular slots with the media to explain some of the findings and the rationale for his recommendations. He should have become a trusted adviser – the Nation’s Doctor – and steer clear of the shady political manoeuvring.

    There is increasing evidence too that SAGE scientists are getting restless that the finger of blame will be pointed at them – to become scapegoats when the blame game truly starts. That is why the secrecy around SAGE should not have been permitted and the role of the CSA should have been clearer – to transmit the advice to the government. The Independent SAGE group has shown how this can be done and how you can also engage the wider professional community and public voice in the discourse. The SHA has always advocated for co-production of health and wellbeing.

    The Prime Minister’s newspaper the Sunday Telegraph has today (31st May) applauded him for not sacking his adviser, admits that mistakes have been made but points the finger of blame quite unfairly on PHE. They declare that the ‘system needs structural change’ after the pandemic. The last period we had such changes were during austerity which cut back the NHS and Local Government and the implementation of the disastrous Andrew Lansley disorganisation.

    Scientists need also to beware as the government casts around to blame someone else and we have long been concerned about the claims that they have been ‘following the science’. Several senior SAGE advisers have had to break ranks to say that in their view the government is relaxing the lockdown in England too early. As we have said repeatedly the UK has not performed well in controlling the pandemic and we have had a terrible death toll. It will be shameful if politicians point to scientists, PHE and their own professional advisers as the cause of the dither and delay at the start and the poor decision making since on ‘game changers’ and digital apps. The chaotic introduction of private consultancies and contractors have hindered a joined up public health partnership response and wasted resources which could have been invested in re-building capacity in local government, PHE and the NHS.

    31.5.2020

    Posted by Jean Hardiman Smith of behalf of the Officers and Vice Chairs of the SHA.

    1 Comment

    This is a collective statement on behalf of SHA bringing together public health evidence and other opinions on a key Covid policy issue.

    The Westminster Government announced on May 10th that:

    “As a result of the huge efforts everyone has made to adhere to strict social distancing measures, the transmission rate of coronavirus has decreased. We therefore anticipate, with further progress, that we may be able, from the week commencing 1 June, to welcome back more children to early years, school, and further education settings. We will only do this provided that the five key tests set by the government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing. As a result, we are asking schools, colleges, and childcare providers to plan on this basis, ahead of confirmation that these tests are met”

    We believe that the 5 tests will not be fully met by June 1st and that this announcement was premature. This decision has been taken without transparency about the evidence that has been used on the direct and indirect health impacts. We now see French schools having to reclose.

    We also believe that the Government should have attempted to agree a consensus with Local Authorities and Teaching Unions before announcing a country wide directive around schools in general. The announcement has left schools without clear expectations, without a structure for managing this. We understand that many Local Authorities and schools will now have to seek the skills and information to figure this all out themselves. We believe that this uncertainly will lead to decisions that could adversely affect the health of children, teachers, families, and vulnerable people in their communities. We do not want a repeat of the mistakes in respect of care homes.

    In addition, it breaks the consensus across the four nations in the UK and shows little regard for regional variation or for impacts on inequities in health outcomes for everyone, and educational outcomes for children. Educational opportunities are a powerful determinant of long-term health outcomes.

    The SHA believes that the education sector has been systematically under-resourced and discouraged by this Government since 2010 under austerity, which leaves many schools with insufficient staff, increasing class sizes and inadequate environments that are less able to meet the stringent conditions to enable them to open as safely as possible in such a short timescale.

    We believe that the Government should have considered the following:

    1. How risks would be minimised, and benefits maximised:
      1. In the school environment, such as through safe distancing, handwashing, and other logistic measures to minimise transmission of COVID19, where staffing levels may not be sufficient and school buildings are not always suitable. Children use their bodies to learn.
      2. To children, in particular those in deprived neighbourhoods, in vulnerable groups, children from BAME families, and those with special needs. There is no clarity on alternative arrangements that could have been much more robust to safeguard, and to ensure their nutrition, learning and emotional needs. This should not rely on schools to provide these solutions now
      3. Allowing for the full autonomy of schools and their local authorities within their safeguarding obligations on an area basis
      4. To other groups, such as teachers, communities, and vulnerable groups, and weigh these against the benefits and risks to the wider society
    1. How harm would be minimised, and benefits maximised:
      1. To children who may be missing education which is likely to have a long-term impact on those from more deprived neighbourhoods and those who are less likely to have received equitable support at home
      2. To children who become infected, including asymptomatically and to their immediate household and contacts
      3. To the wider community, especially those that have had a high incidence of COVID19 and remain at high risk of further outbreaks and resurgences. These have disproportionately affected more deprived communities and those with a high proportion of BAME people
    2. How the overall public health response would support this move:
      1. How potential school outbreaks would be identified and managed in the absence of a fully functioning test/ treat/ isolate programme, particularly as some businesses are reopening at the same time.
      2. How schools will be supported by local public health services unless further resources and decision-making powers are decentralised to allow a robust and appropriate and rapid local multi-agency response

    The SHA believes that this decision has been reached without a clear rationale on the benefits and risks, and without demonstrating that the 5 key tests have been met:

    Test one: Making sure the NHS can cope

    Test two: A ‘sustained and consistent’ fall in the daily death rate

    Test three: Rate of infection decreasing to ‘manageable levels’

    Fourth test: Ensuring supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand

    Fifth test: Being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS

    We would add a Sixth: A fully functioning test/ treat/ isolate programme

    The SHA believes that the decision has been reached without sufficient consultation with key stakeholders and before the 5 tests have been fully met. In addition, the National Education Union has set 5 tests specific to educational settings, and we support their belief that in many areas these have not been met.

    We expect a more supportive response from the Dept for Education including investment into online learning and into a revived Sure Start model.

    The SHA believes that schools should be reopened at the right time but that the Government should make the best efforts to ensure that there is a consensus for when this should happen based upon relevant expert input rather than political pressure.  This has clearly not been achieved, as it has been in other countries that have gradually opened schools.

    We encourage Local Authorities and Academy Trusts to follow the example of LAs such as Liverpool, Haringey, North of Tyne, Hartlepool, and Brighton – and devolved governments in Wales, Scotland, and NI – in making it clear that they will not reopen schools until they feel it is safe.

    Sources

    Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak updated 18th May. Department of Education for England

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-school-closures/guidance-for-schools-about-temporarily-closing

    NEU five tests for Government before schools can re-open

    https://neu.org.uk/neu-five-tests-government-schools-can-re-open

    ONS figures reveal 65 COVID-related deaths in education workforce

    https://schoolsweek.co.uk/ons-figures-reveal-65-covid-related-deaths-in-education/

    Which occupations have the highest potential exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19)? ONS May 11th https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/whichoccupationshavethehighestpotentialexposuretothecoronaviruscovid19/2020-05-11

    Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, England and Wales: deaths registered up to and including 20 April 2020 May 11th https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/bulletins/coronaviruscovid19relateddeathsbyoccupationenglandandwales/latest

    https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-doctors-back-teachers-fears-over-schools-reopening?fbclid=IwAR2JD0Np1x_lgG49xo1Hig4T9ozNto36vsG09Ue-mvAtMrTvhWVyegtphBE

    Prof John Edmunds

    https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/john-edmunds-tells-lords-decision-to-re-open-schools-is-political-1-6660526?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social_Icon&utm_campaign=in_article_social_icons

    Prof Devi Shridhar, Professor of Global Public Health, Edinburgh Uni &  Ines Hassan.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/20/british-schools-science-children-education-testing-tracing

    https://www.newschain.uk/news/young-children-will-still-socially-distance-school-health-chief-says-8334

    Schools re-close in France after 70 new Covid cases following re-opening  6-11yr classes. NB. French schools starting age is 6 not 3.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/coronavirus-france-school-cases-reopen-lockdown-a9520386.html

    Comparative school age starts

    https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.AGES

    NB. Denmark is also 6 and easier to manage s/d. long term impacts of formal learning too soon

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029435-000-too-much-too-young-should-schooling-start-at-age-7/#

    Formal learning in early years linked to criminality in teens

    https://www.res.org.uk/resources-page/the-impact-of-school-starting-age-on-teenage-criminality–evidence-from-denmark-.html

    Posted by Brian Fisher on behalf of the Policy Team.

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