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    HIV i-Base continue to report on COVID-19 vaccination and treatment. The Q&A service on the i-Base website has been answering many questions about coronavirus vaccinations.

    Please see this new question:

    Are animal products in the COVID vaccines? Are they Halal? https://i-base.info/qa/16668

    Answer:

    The vaccines are safe and recommended if you are Muslim.

    • There are no animal products in the Pfizer, Moderna or Oxford vaccines.
    • There are also no traces of pig products or egg products.
    • These vaccines are all Halal safe.

    The video in the i-Base link above is from Imam Yunus having the vaccine at Newham Hospital in East London.

    As chaplain of St Barts, Imam Yunus talks about how the vaccine is safe, effective and Halal.

    Please note this video is included as an information resource. It is not directly liked to HIV and i-Base was not involved in producing it.

    This is one of more than 45 questions about COVID vaccines. It was produced by and for people living with HIV.
    Q&A on COVID vaccines: are they safe and effective?
    https://i-base.info/qa/16330

    Copying and distribution of i-Base infomation is encouraged – and free – but please credit HIV i-Base as source.

    Leave a comment

    HIV i-Base continue to report on COVID-19 research and treatment as a supplement to HIV treatment research and information.

    Copying and distribution of i-Base infomation is encouraged – and free – but please credit HIV i-Base as source. You can see this Q&A here or read it below:

    Q&A on COVID vaccines: are they safe and effective?

    The following questions were for a community UK-CAB workshop on COVID vaccines. Answers by Angelina Namiba and Simon Collins.

    Are vaccines against COVID-19 effective?

    Yes, any approved vaccine has been very carefully studied in  a wide range of people.

    These first vaccines are highly effective. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines prevent COVID symptoms in 95% of people. They also prevent severe COVID-19.

    These vaccines are much better than first thought possible. Early in 2020, a vaccine would have been approved if it was only 50% effective.

    Which vaccines are being used in the UK?

    The only vaccine that is currently approved in the UK is called BNT162b2.

    It is made by Pfizer/BioNTech. It was approved in the UK on 2 December and in the US on 12 December 2020. A second similar vaccine, developed by Moderna/NIH has just been approved in the US. It will also be approved in other countries too. The EU plans to approve these two vaccines within the next few weeks.

    However, other vaccines are being used in UK studies (see below). These include a vaccine from Oxford University and Astra-Zeneca called ChAdOx1. Another study using a Janssen vaccine is just starting. As new vaccines are approved we will add them to this page.

    Why should I get a vaccine?

    The main reason to get the vaccine is to protect yourself against COVID-19.

    COVID-19 can be deadly – it is much better to be protected. Even people who recover from COVID-19 often have symptoms that last for many months. This is called long COVID and is still being studied.

    If you have been offered the vaccine it is because of your personal level of risk. The vaccine may also protect your friends, family and contacts at work.

    Is my risk high enough to need the vaccine?

    Yes, there is only a limited supply of these vaccines. In the UK, for at least the next few months, you will only be offered the vaccine if your personal risk is high.

    This will be because of your age and your health or because you work in a high risk job.

    Do I have to get the vaccine?

    If the vaccine is for your own health, then this is always still your choice. You do not have to have the vaccine.

    Please talk to your doctor if you have any worries or concerns. Or if you’re unsure about having the vaccine.

    If you are offered the vaccine because of your job, not having the vaccine might affect the work you can do.

    Are vaccines against COVID-19 safe?

    Yes, based on the results from large studies, any approved vaccine will also be very safe.

    For example. the Pfizer vaccine was studied in more than 44,000 people without any serious side effects.

    There are only a few situations when this vaccine needs to been given more carefully. This includes people who have a history of serious allergy reactions to different foods or medicines – as with other vaccines. In this case the vaccine should only be given where there is medical support in case this reaction occurs.

    How do we know the vaccine is safe?

    Technically, no medicine or vaccine can be proved to be safe! This is because we can’t measure safety, we can only measure risk.

    So instead of saying something is safe, it is more accurate to describe the risk. With COVID vaccines we can say there is a very low risk of side effects.

    Compared to the very real risks from COVID-19, using the vaccine is much safer than not using it. This is known from research studies in tens of thousands of people. The studies recorded every side effect or any potential side effect.

    Additional safety data comes after the vaccines are used outside of studies. This will include from people who were not included in the main studies. This led to a caution in people with history of serious allergic reactions (see next Q).

    What if I have a history of allergy reactions?

    As in the question above, even people with a history of serious reactions can still use the vaccine. This includes people who have reactions to vaccines, medicines or foods.

    However, if you currently need to carry an anti-allergy syringe, you need to be vaccinated in a clinic in case a reaction occurs.

    Two health workers in the UK with a history of severe reactions did react to the vaccine. Both people have now recovered. More information will be collected on cases like this.

    Can I develop an allergic reaction to the vaccine?

    Yes, although the risk is small and relates to your history of allergies.

    For the Pfizer vaccine, anyone with a history of severe allergy reactions should have the vaccines in a setting that can safely manage reactions.

    What about if I have immune suppression from HIV or cancer treatment?

    Yes, the vaccine is still recommended if you are HIV positive or if you have cancer. This is because of the high risk from COVID-19.

    Although the leaflet that comes with the vaccine includes talking to your doctor first if you have a reduced immune system, this is not related to a safety of the vaccine. It is because the protection from the vaccine might not be as strong.

    This means that even after both doses of the vaccine, it will still be important to be careful, for example by wearing a mask and social distancing.

    As more people are vaccinated, researchers will look at responses in people who were not widely included in studies.

    What if I have other inflammatory or autoimmune conditions?

    As above, the vaccine is still recommended for people living with inflammatory or autoimmune conditions.

    In this, it is very similar to getting a flu vaccine. Anyone who can use the flu vaccine can use a vaccine against COVID-19.

    These include:

    • Inflammatory rheumatic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, axial spondyloarthritis, lupus).
    • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
    • Psoriasis.
    • Multiple sclerosis.
    • Organ transplant recipients.
    • People on chemotherapy.

    This is because of the high risks from COVID-19.

    Although many people with these and other complications were not directly studied in vaccine studies, there is no safety concern. As above, the caution is that the vaccine might not be quite as effective.

    Ongoing research though will be looking at this.

    Does the vaccine interact with other medicines?

    No. There are no medicines that can not be used with these vaccines. If you are taking other treatment, there is no need to stop this to have a vaccine.

    Although it is good to ask about interactions with current medicines, there are no interactions with the vaccines. If you are worried, it is easy to double-check this with your doctor.

    Your doctor will also know your medical history and whether one type of vaccine might be better for you than another.

    Could the vaccine interact with my HIV meds?

    There are no interactions between the COVID-19 vaccines and HIV meds.

    Will my HIV viral load blip when I have the vaccine?

    Technically though, there is not enough results from HIV positive people in the first vaccine studies to report this yet, though this will be reported later.

    However, based on other vaccines this is unlikely to happen.

    Any vaccine has the potential to increase viral load for a short time. This is the same as to any active infection (including flu and colds).  As with the answer to other questions here, it is okay to approach the COVID vaccination as if it was the annual flu vaccine – which is widely recommended for people living with HIV.

    If your viral load is generally undetectable any increase is likely to be very small. For example, with the flu vaccine, it might increase from less than 50 to maybe 80 or 100 copies/mL – and only for a few days or a week. This is too low to affect the risk of transmission.

    Other vaccines, for example for hepatitis B, don’t cause HIV viral load to blip.

    As a guide, unless you get symptoms from the vaccine, your HIV viral load is likely to stay undetectable. If you get symptoms, any small blip is likely to be undetectable again within a week.

    Can the vaccine interact with estrogen and/or testosterone treatment?

    There are no interactions between the COVID-19 vaccines and estrogen and testosterone.

    Are the vaccines safe in pregnancy?

    Great question. So far there is little data because pregnancy was an exclusion for the main studies. But if you are pregnant, the vaccine is still recommended.

    Also, women will still have become pregnant during these studies – and certainly afterwards. These data will all be collected during the study.

    When these data are available they will be widely publicised.

    Other studies are looking at vaccine responses during pregnancy.

    Are the vaccines safe in children?

    So far vaccines have only been studied in people who are aged 16 and over.

    Further research is planned to look at younger people.

    What is in the vaccine that they are going to offer me?

    None of the COVID vaccines in the UK contain any live viruses. There is no risk of catching coronavirus from the vaccine.

    The active parts of a vaccine though only use a protein from the outside of the coronavirus. Or they tell your boby how to make these proteins.

    This will not cause an infection though.

    Vaccines also include other ingredients that help the vaccine work. For example the Pfizer vaccine contains traces of sodium and potassium. This is sufficiently low to still be called sodium-free and potassium-free.

    It also contains sucrose and this, together with all other ingredients, is listed on the patient leaflet that you get before the injection. This is also online now if you want to check first (see fruther information in the final question).

    How is the vaccine given?

    The Pfizer vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm. A second booster dose is given again, three weeks later. You reach the best protection seven days after the second dose.

    Do I still need to social distance after the vaccine?

    Yes, so far, it is still better to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus.

    A few people might not be protected by the vaccine. We also don’t know how long protection will last. You might also still become infected without symptoms. You could then pass this to other people.

    Even after the vaccine, please continue wearing a mask. Please continue recommendations for social distancing.

    Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

    No. This is easy to answer.

    There is zero risk of getting COVID-19 from the vaccine.

    The vaccines do not contain coronavirus itself.

    What are the symptoms/side effects from the vaccine?

    Most side effects to the Pfizer vaccine were mild or moderate.

    Very common side effects were similar to getting the flu vaccine. They generally got better within a few days. These were reported by more than 1 in 10 people.

    • Pain at injection site.
    • Tiredness.
    • Headache.
    • Muscle pain.
    • Chills.
    • Joint pain.
    • Fever.

    Common side effects included injection site swelling, redness at injection site, and nausea. These were reported in less than 1 in 10 people.

    Uncommon side effects, in less than 1 in 100 people included enlarged lymph glands or just generally feeling unwell.

    Am I going to get sick with the COVID-19 vaccine like the flu jab?

    No necessarily, but maybe. So far the COVID vaccine is similar to getting a flu vaccine. And just like the flu vaccine, the response will vary for different people.

    The question above shows that symptoms are similar to the flu vaccine and are nearly always mild.

    Should I wait to see how people similar to me react first?

    This is a good question – and sounds very reasonable. But within a week or two another 500,000 people will have used the vaccine in the UK.

    Any serious concerns will be reported long before you are likely to be offered the vaccine.

    However, if you are okay leading a very isolated life, then waiting is a choice. But if you still want to interact with people, then waiting will be more risky than having the vaccine now.

    How long will protection last?

    This will only be known with more time. Protection should last for at least a year and hopefully a lot longer. Some vaccines, for example hepatitis B and tetanus only need a boost every ten years.

    Which vaccine is best?

    So far, all the leading vaccines look very good. Getting access to any vaccine now is more important than which vaccine you use.

    What if I already had COVID-19? Does it matter where this was severe or mild?

    People who already had COVID-19 are still recommended to use the vaccine. It doesn’t matter how severe or mild this was.

    Will my GP or HIV doctor give me the vaccine? Can I choose?

    Who gives you the vaccine will depend on which vaccine is being used.

    The Pfizer vaccine will generally be given at health centres or hospitals. This is because of limits in how it can be stored.

    If you are offered a different vaccine in the next month or two, this might be given by your GP. This is early stage for the vaccines but it is unlikely to be your HIV doctor. You are not likely to be able to choose.

    Why should I get the vaccine if the person giving me the vaccines hasn’t had it yet?

    The decision on who gets the vaccine first are decided by an expert advisory group.

    If this group recommends you get the vaccine, then this is because your individual risk makes this important.

    Will the vaccine stop me catching COVID-19? Or just from getting ill? Or maybe both?

    The vaccine will definitely reduce risk of getting ill, but the answer is “probably both”.

    The vaccines are approved because they reduce symptoms of COVID-19.

    The first studies didn’t measure whether people caught coronavirus, just whether they had symptoms of COVID-19.

    Most mild symptoms later confirmed as COVID-19 were in people who didn’t get the vaccine. Importantly, nearly all the most serious cases of COVID-19 were also in people who got the placebo (inactive) injections.

    Technically, some people might still catch coronavirus and be infectious but without symptoms. This is still an ongoing research question.

    Studies with the Moderna and Oxford vaccines include some results showing that the risk of catching coronavirus is also reduced.

    Is the vaccine safe if I have other health problems as well as HIV?

    Yes, vaccines are recommended in people living with HIV and other health problems.

    The more serious your other health problems, the more important it will be to be protected from COVID-19.

    Can I get the vaccine if I have or have had hepatitis C?

    Yes, vaccines are recommended in people living with hepatitis C or who previously had hepC.

    Is the vaccine safe if I use chems like crystal meth, GHB or mephedrone?

    Yes, the vaccines do not interact with drugs used for chemsex.

    However, taking a break from the chems for the week of the vaccine will make it easier to know whether you get any side effects.

    If the social context for using chems means you are having more partners, the protection from the vaccine will be especially important.

    Is the vaccine affected by ethnicity? Will it affect me differently because I’m black/brown?

    No, vaccines studies include people of different ethnicities. They are created for everyone.

    Ethnicity does not affect immune responses or risk of side effects.

    Are black and brown people more at risk of getting side effects?

    No, as with the question above, ethnicity has not been linked to any better or worse outcomes.

    Have vaccine trials included black and brown men and women living with HIV? Or do the findings just relate to the experiences of HIV positive white gay men?

    Unfortunately, most vaccine studies only included very small numbers of people living with HIV. So far, the ethnicity breakdown of the HIV positive group has not been presented. All the HIV positive participants might be black and brown women.

    For example, the Pfizer study with more than 44,000 people only included about 120 people living with HIV. The results did not show that HIV as any impact on how the vaccines work.

    However, there is a lot more data about ethnicity.

    About 10% of the people in the US sites were black or African American. There were no differences in how well the vaccine worked or in side effects compared to the rest of the study population.

    Who approved these vaccines? Were the interests of my community represented?

    Vaccine are approved by the same organisations that approve medicines. They were approved for all people.

    • This is the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK.
    • In Europe it is  the European Medicine Agency (EMA)
    • In the US it is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
    • Other countries and regions have similar organisations.

    Each of these groups is made up of expert advisors who are mainly scientists and doctors but that sometime include community voices.

    The panels are responsible for representing interests of all people who are going to be using these products.

    The FDA is especially open as it publishes the detailed study results online for everyone to read. It also webcasts the meeting that decide on where a vaccine or medicine is approved.

    How do I know I’m being treated equally? How do I know this isn’t experimentation in black people?

    These concerns are very real. Nearly all countries still have structures that are not equal. Many have a history where people were treated differently.

    In the UK, this still affects access to important services that include education and medical care. This is even when there are policies to make access fair.

    However, ethnicity has been linked to higher risk of COVID-19 in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. This actually makes access to the vaccines even more important.

    As all the studies included people from all ethnicities. There is good data to show they are at least as safe and effective.

    COVID vaccines will be offered to people of all ethnicities. As has been seen in the news all ethnicities have the choice to use the vaccine.

    If the government didn’t protect me from coronavirus, why should I trust them with the vaccine?

    Perhaps luckily, the government are not directly involved in either producing the vaccines or in running the studies that look at how well they work.

    The government is also not directly involved in deciding which vaccines are approved.

    Whether or not you use any medicine or vaccine is a decision that you make with your doctor as an individual.

    I’ve experienced racism in the health system and receiving HIV care. How can you tell me this won’t be the same?

    I am sorry for any previous experiences within the NHS. I am also sorry if you have not been treated fairly in the past.

    Although I can not guarantee this will not happen again, there is a lot of information about how to deal with this.

    I can however provide information on COVID-19 and the vaccines. This shows that the benefits of the vaccine so far are much greater than the risks from not getting the vaccine.

    Why did we get a COVID-19 vaccine so quickly, but there is still no vaccine for HIV?

    There are two answers here.

    The practical answer is that the threat from COVID-19 were so serious that many more resources became available. The urgency of COVID-19 led to a larger budget – and luckily, this has been more effective than anyone first hoped.

    A more technical scientific answer is coronavirus is relatively stable. Unlike HIV the structure of the proteins doesn’t change and so a vaccine based on these proteins with continue to work.

    HIV is still a more difficult virus to overcome because it makes small changes every day. So HIV vaccines that might work very well on Monday will be out-of-date on Friday because of these small changes.

    HIV does have at least 30 approved treatments. These enable to lead long and health lives.

    There are many other infections where we also need new vaccines. Hopefully the advances for COVID-19 will help for other vaccines.

    If vaccines are now available, should I still join a study?

    This is an important question because other vaccines are still being studied.

    In the UK this includes a vaccine from Oxford University and Astra-Zeneca called ChAdOx1.

    Another study is due to start using a vaccine from Janssen.

    Joining one of these studies might let you get a vaccine before you are offered on from the NHS.

    If you do get offered an NHS vaccine after joining a study, you can still use the approved one. The study will tell you whether or not you got the active vaccine. The researchers can also study your response to the second vaccine.

    In practice, new studies will hopefully look at switching between different vaccines.

    If the vaccine is lifesaving, why is not available to everyone in the world?

    You are right, for a vaccine to be really effective, everyone will need to use it. This includes in all countries.

    Many organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have been working all year to also make access fair.

    For example, the international COVAX programme is aiming to vaccinate two billion people during 2021. This includes more than 100 low and middle income countries including across Africa, Asia and South America.

    So optimistically, at some point, everyone will have access.

    In practice, high income countries that could afford the first commercial vaccines have bought most of the first stock.

    But some of the next stock during 2021 – and more importantly newer vaccines – will be available for the COVAX programme. This might not be until later in 2021 and 2022 though.

    Where can I get more information?

    The following links are to different sources for more information.

    i-Base run an information service if you have individual questions that you would like answered.
    https://i-base.info/qa

    i-Base report news about COVID-19 treatment and vaccines in a monthly bulletin.
    https://i-base.info/htb

    British HIV Association (for information about HIV and COVID-19).
    https://www.bhiva.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19

    UK patient information leaflet for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
    (PDF)

    FDA 50-page document with detailed results on Pfizer vaccine.
    https://www.fda.gov/media/144245/download

    YouTube website to watch the US CDC hearings for COVID vaccines
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvrp9iOILTQYiZunwmtiIRt52poVP8D02

    Article on why vaccine is recommended for people with immune suppression and autoimmune conditions.
    https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/942853

    Website for WHO COVAX programme for global access.
    https://www.who.int/initiatives/act-accelerator/covax

    The People’s Vaccine – a collaboration of large charities including Oxfam.
    https://www.oxfam.org/en/tags/peoples-vaccine

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    A deserved boost in pay for NHS staff, who have battled through the pandemic, is ‘the elephant in the room’ in the latest plan for the health service in England, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Thursday 30 July).
    Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock today welcomed the launch of the NHS People Plan as a new bureaucracy busting drive, so staff can spend less time on paperwork and more time with their patients.
     
    Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said that the aims of this latest plan for the NHS would be hampered by the fragmentation caused by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act with its remit for increased competition for NHS services.
    Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “There have been a plethora of plans for the future of the NHS over the years and this latest manifestation neatly avoids ‘the elephant in the room’ – that of NHS pay.
    “NHS staff have worked ceaselessly throughout the pandemic at great risk to themselves and a generous pay rise would recognise that dedication as well as staunch the ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis that is currently afflicting the NHS – for example, there are about 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone.
    “It is all very well for the plan to trumpet bureaucracy busting measures, but it was the flawed 2012 Act of the then health secretary Andrew Lansley that created the extra bureaucracy by fragmenting the NHS in the first place.
    “One of the key chapters of the People Plan is ‘belonging to the NHS’. This terms rings hollow to thousands of health visitors and school nurses cast outside the NHS; or the catering, cleaning, portering and maintenance staff that have been outsourced to private contractors or dispensed to wholly owned subsidiaries.
    “The English ideological obsession with marketisation and privatisation in the NHS must be terminated without delay and this report does nothing to address this.
    “We, of course, welcome such measures in the plan as boosting the mental health and cancer workforce; full risk assessments for vulnerable staff, including BAEM workers; and all jobs to be advertised with flexible working options from January.
    “But without addressing the issue of pay, highly skilled NHS staff will consider looking for more lucrative work elsewhere, possibly abroad.”
    Last week, chancellor Rishi Sunak awarded up to a 3.1 per cent pay rise for 900,000 public sector workers, including doctors, teachers and police officers. Unite accused the chancellor of having ‘a selective memory’ when it comes to public sector pay, rewarding some, but ignoring hundreds of thousands of others.

    Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble

    Comments Off on Pay is ‘elephant in the room’, says Unite, as new NHS England People Plan launched

    In this week’s blog we will look again at the emerging Blame Game which is attempting to divert attention away from the PM and Health Secretary, raise again the unbelievable issue of the national Test and Trace scheme not sharing information on test results with local Directors of Public Health, salute the letter to the National Audit Office about PPE procurement and applaud the Vaccine Research group at Imperial College for creating a Social Enterprise company committed to sharing the vaccine globally.

    Blame Game

    The Prime Minister’s innate self-interest is exercising his mind at present and with the support of his political adviser Dominic Cummings is casting around to identify who he can blame for the very poor outcome of the pandemic in the UK, particularly in England. Commentators have pointed out that if a man/woman from Mars dropped in they would struggle to work out whether Cummings or Johnson was the Prime Minister (PM). Dom will do whatever it takes to insulate the PM from criticism says a senior civil servant.

    Local Authorities and their Public Health teams

    Once the PM and Secretary of State, Hancock realised that the COVID-19 first wave ‘sombrero’ had not been flattened, we have not eliminated the virus and the population are likely to continue to suffer from local upsurges of COVID-19 cases. They want to shift the blame onto others. The Local Authority based public health teams had been left out of the loop from the start of the pandemic and their role has been as a local megaphone for central guidance or to help out regional Public Health England with local outbreaks.

    The Department of Health started to get involved in Local Outbreaks and twiddled their thumbs when they noticed increasing positive test results in Leicester. Rather than share the data and engage local leaders they wondered what actions they could take from their Whitehall village and became alarmed and made an emergency announcement in the evening to Parliament declaring a local lockdown. At the same time they passed the buck to the surprise of the local Director of Public Health (DPH) and Local Authority leaders.

    With more test result data ‘passed down’ to the local team things have started to settle and local tracing and community engagement has blossomed. The local DPH and Mayor of Leicester have stood up and accepted the challenge and are dealing with it with the support of Public Health England and local communities.

    Local data

    The whole pandemic response has been top down and now that has been shown to be ineffective and expensive they are shifting the responsibility onto local teams, who welcome the recognition that they should always have been the place for an effective population response. However there remain issues to do with sharing fully and quickly all the necessary information for local teams to plan their prevention campaigns specific to the at risk populations. The national test and trace scheme has been shown to be very expensive and has poor outcomes in terms of speed of test results and their contact tracing efforts. Despite that there seems to be reluctance still in proper sharing of test result details on the basis of information security, which the government in England have failed to comply with.

    Public Health specialists have worked with person identifiable data for decades and the system is compliant with data security. Just get on with it and don’t put the spotlight onto Leicester, Kirklees, Blackburn and Pendle without sharing the data that is available from the testing sites.

    It is estimated that in June a quarter of the 31,000 people who had their case transferred to the Test and Trace scheme were not reached. Almost a third of those who were did not provide any contacts. Compare this to the success rate of local so called Pillar 1 NHS hospital testing system where nearly 100% contacts are traced.  It is time that the Test and Trace budget be devolved and that local DsPH manage the testing arrangements they require and ensure that the most useful information is obtained when samples are taken and ensure that the local public health department gets the results as well as the GPs who need to be drawn into the campaign. In Wales and other devolved nations much better systems are in place.

    Remember the hype about the Isle of Wight phone app? Lord Bethell, the Health Minister responsible for the Google and Apple technology, is now quoted as saying: “We are seeking to get something going for the winter, but it isn’t a priority for us at the moment”.

    If this wasn’t enough the government have had to recall thousands of Randox test kits as a health and safety risk. These were contracted by the Baroness Harding Deloitte’s Test and Trace outfit and used in Care Homes and for home testing. Another embarrassment to add to all the rest!

    Why didn’t they invest in local NHS laboratories linked to local GPs and Public Health teams, who would have got the results back quickly with the information required for effective locally based contact tracing? Centralisation and Privatisation have not worked and have cost the taxpayer billions.

    Workers and Employers

    The Chancellor has been enjoying himself when announcing hand-outs of government resources (in Tory language tax-payers money). Public sector borrowing stands at its highest peacetime level in 300 years. Four million people could be unemployed by next year which according to the Office of Budget Responsibility will be the worst jobs crisis in a generation. The furlough scheme, which is helping pay wages for 9.4m people will end in October. The annual deficit is set to rise to £350bn and economic contraction of 25% in the last 2 months. So it is not surprising that the PM wants to get the economy going again. However his call to open up the offices again and get people spending money in town centre shops by 1st August carries with it huge risk to public health and a burden on employers to make the workplace COVID secure.

    John Phillips of the GMB union has stated: “The PM has once again shown a failure of leadership in the face of this pandemic. Passing the responsibility of keeping people safe to employers and local authorities is confusing and dangerous.” Frances O’Grady of the TUC said that: “The return to work needs to be handled in a phased and safe way. The government is passing the buck on this big decision to employers. Getting back to work safely requires a functioning test and trace system and the government is refusing to support workers who have to self isolate by raising statutory sick pay from £95 per week to a rate people can live on.”

    Civil servants

    The third group of people who have a finger pointing at them are civil servants. The sacking of Mark Sedwill, head of the civil service, is one top of the tree example. His generous departure settlement is the same amount as he would have been entitled to if he had been made compulsorily redundant. In his letter to Mr Sedwill the PM stated that Sedwill was ‘instrumental in drawing up the country’s plan to deal with coronavirus’.

    The PM has reluctantly agreed to have an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic but has lobbed the date into the long grass. He said that: “There are plenty of things that people will say that we got wrong and we owe that discussion and that honesty to the tens of thousands who have died before their time”. We all know that when the blame is distributed it will be civil servants, scientists, public health officials, and some Ministers who will be scapegoated for the outcome that has seen more than 45,000 deaths and left the British economy facing the biggest recession of any European nation. In addition the recent Academy of Medical Sciences report estimates that the risk of a second wave mid winter is of the order of 120,000 excess deaths.

    National Audit Office

    In earlier Blogs we have drawn attention to the potentially fraudulent way that millions of pound contracts have been awarded, sometimes to shell companies or companies that have no history of having undertaken such roles such as PPE suppliers. We are delighted that Rachel Reeves MP and Justin Madders MP of the Labour Shadow team have written to the National Audit Office (NAO) requesting investigation into waste and fraud with especial focus on the PPE procurement, which amounts to £1.5bn. The letter draws attention to many concerns such as awarding the contract to Deloitte without competition. In emergencies governments are entitled to use something called a ‘single bidder emergency procurement process’ to avoid delays that arise with competitive tendering.

    It won’t surprise SHA members to learn that this, EU based measure, has been used by the UK government more than 60 times during the pandemic compared to twice in Spain, 11 times by Italy and 17 times by Germany. The sloppy allocation of contracts to best buddies in the commercial world and Tory Party supporters must be called out and lets hope that the NAO accepts the request and does a speedy audit on some of these contracts.

    Vaccines and global health

    We have already, in previous blogs, pointed out how Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘America First’ is illustrated in examples such as Remdesivir. This antiviral drug, which shortens hospital stays in patients with COVID, was basically bought up by the USA. It was reported at the end of June that the US had bought up virtually all stocks for the next three months leaving none for the UK, Europe or most of the rest of the world. The Trump administration has shown that it is prepared to outbid and outmanoeuvre all other countries to secure the medical supplies it needs. This has implications for the vaccines being actively developed across the world.

    Geopolitics is already at work with reports of Russian cyber crime attacks on the UK based vaccine researchers in Oxford. It was therefore great news to hear that the Imperial College based researchers with Philanthropic and UK government funding have formed a social enterprise. This not for profit arrangement aims to ensure fair distribution by waiving royalties for low income countries so that the poorest get it for free and the richest pay a bit more. Human trials of their vaccine start in October and Imperial are looking for volunteers.

    This group are a reminder that it doesn’t need to be profiteering and greed and stands alongside others who have come through the pandemic with gold stars such as Tim Spector’s C-19 symptoms app group in Kings College London who are using an app that actually works!

    Gramsci

    Finally Michael Gove caused a stir when he recently quoted from Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist intellectual:

    The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.

    This quote is from Prison Notebooks, written by Gramsci during his imprisonment in the time of Mussolini. You could look at this quotation in a completely different perspective to those like Michael Gove and Mr Cummings.

    20.7.2020

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

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    The UK-CAB is the UK’s HIV treatment advocates network.
     
    A couple of weeks ago four UK-CAB members spoke to Dr Rageshri Dhairyawan from Barts Health NHS Trust. It was a chance for HIV positive people from BAME communities to voice their concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The strong focus was on questions from people living with HIV and the communities they work in.

    Watch via YouTube: https://youtu.be/Cy7d7FD2ro0

    The recording is about 40 minutes long. It covers a wide range of questions in relation to COVID-19. Discussion covers inequalities in health care, sexual health, mental health, research, stigma and HIV treatment. 

     

    We hope this film provides an educational tool for doctors and the public. Please share it with people accessing your services, clients, partners, and friends and families. 


    Thank you to Adela, Jide, Juddy and Shamal for taking part and to Jo for chairing this session, and of course to Dr Rageshri for answering these important questions.
     
    And, here is Dr Ameen Kamlana in a very short interview with Sky News on how COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of colour.
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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

    On Friday 26 June 2020 HIV i-Base published the fifth COVID-19 supplement to HIV Treatment Bulletin (HTB). Please see this link.

    All i-Base reports are free to copy and i-Base encourages wide distribution. Please credit i-Base when distributing these reports.

     

    HIV and COVID-19: a new supplement to HIV Treatment Bulletin (HTB).

    This publication reviews the latest news on COVID-19, including research that is important for care of people living with HIV.

    All articles are online as html web pages. The PDF files use a single column layout that makes it easy to read each issue on tablets and other hand held devices.

    HIV and COVID-19 no 5 – (26 June 2020)
    HIV and COVID-19 coinfections including data from South Africa, dexamethasone effective in advanced COVID-19, hydroxycholoquine not effective in UK RECOVERY study, plus updates on remdesivir and other treatments…
    Contents online. (html pages)
    HIV and COVID-19 no 5 – 26 June 2020 (PDF)

    HIV and COVID-19 no 4 – (1 June 2020)
    HIV and COVID-19 coinfections, UK access to remdesivir, convalescent plasma, interferon, famotidine, tocilizumab, concern with hydroxychloroquine, UK research plus more…
    Contents online (html pages)
    Download: HIV and COVID-19 issue 4 (PDF)

    HIV and COVID-19 no 3 – (14 May 2020)
    Latest issue includes news on latest treatments, including US approval of remdesivir, plus tentative results with other drugs that reduce immune inflammation (anakinra) – perhaps as essential as antivirals – anticoagulants, ACE inhibitors. Plus latest guidelines and no effect from BCG vaccine.
    Contents online (html pages)
    Download: HIV and COVID-19 issue 3 (PDF)

    HIV and COVID-19: no 2 – (17 April 2020)
    The second supplement of HTB with more than 30 COVID-19 reports: hydroxychloroquine studies, antivirals, transmission and prevention research, online resources.
    Contents online (html pages)
    Download: HIV and COVID-19 issue 2 (PDF)

    HIV and COVID-2019: no 1 – (27 March 2020)
    This 20-page HTB supplement compiles links to articles and resources about COVID-19 including information for managing the care of HIV positive people. It includes short reviews of key studies and early guidelines.
    Contents online. (html pages)
    Download: HIV and COVID-19 issue 1 (PDF)

    Other news and resources on COVID-19 are at: i-base.info/covid-19

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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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    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.

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    Class and race are the biggest factors in determining those that have died or been taken ill by Covid-19, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Tuesday 2 June).

    Unite called for a raft of policies to tackle the ‘systemic failures’ that has led to the disproportionate death toll amongst the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and also the poorest groups in society

    The union was commenting on Public Health England’s report Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19 which highlighted those groups that had been hardest hit in terms of mortality due to coronavirus.

    Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This report shines a searing light that reveals the pandemic in the UK is intrinsically linked disproportionately to class and race.

    “These wide disparities are detailed in this data and point to age, race and income and accompanying health inequalities as key determinants as to whom has been the worst affected by Covid-19.

    “This has been amplified among those in undervalued occupations and jobs where zero hours’ contracts and precarious employment are the norm.

    “Working hard to provide for your families is no defence against Covid-19 for these groups – these systemic failures need to be tackled urgently and that work should start now.

    “No one policy size fits all, but such an agenda should include ethnically sensitive risk assessments and income guarantees for workers who through ‘test, track and trace’ would otherwise be reliant on statutory sick pay (SSP), while in isolation.

    “The Real Living Wage should be the basic minimum for those in ‘at risk’ occupations as an interim measure, with a commitment to sectoral bargaining for care workers and the guarantee of the necessary funding.

    “All these measures are achievable with government support. If austerity is over, as ministers claim, the best defence against the inequalities which the report exposes is to narrow the income gap and invest in public services with priority to social care.

    “The pandemic has shown that the crisis in social care can no long be pushed into the political long grass. The lack of testing for residents and staff, and also the shortage of PPE, in care homes has wreaked a terrible toll on the elderly who have died in their thousands due to Covid-19.

    “Social care can no longer be regarded as the poor relation when it comes to funding from the budgets of central and local government – a ministerial blueprint for social care should be a top priority as we emerge from the lockdown.

    “Poverty is the parent of disease and Covid-19 has been a willing accomplice in this respect. Once this pandemic has passed, we need to look as a country anew to how we can recalibrate economic and social policies to create a fairer society.

    “All these issues must be investigated in depth when the post-pandemic public inquiry takes place, which will be needed in the interests of accountability, openness and transparency.”

    The PHE report said that those parts of UK society most affected included the elderly; Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) populations generally and those BAME NHS staff on the frontline in particular; those with underlying conditions, such as diabetes and dementia; those living in care homes; and those from deprived communities.

    Twitter: @unitetheunion

    Facebook: unitetheunion1

    Web: unitetheunion.org

    Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

     

     

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    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.

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