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    This is our twentieth weekly blog the series where we have commented on the course of the pandemic and the political context and implications from its impact on our country. The SHA has submitted our series of blogs to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), Chaired by Layla Moran (LD, Oxford West and Abingdon), who are taking evidence to learn lessons from our handling of COVID-19 in time for the high risk winter ‘flu season’. The Labour MP Clive Lewis is on the group

    This is an edited version of the seven main points we have submitted:

    1. Austerity (2010-2020)

    This pandemic arrived when the public sector – NHS, Social Care, Local Government and the Public Health system had been weakened by disinvestment over 10 years. This was manifest by cuts to the Public Health England budgets, to the Local Authority public health grants and lack of capital and revenue into the NHS. In workforce terms there was staff shortages in Health and Social Care staffing exceeding 100,000.

    1. Emergency Planning but no investment in stocks (Cygnus 2016)

    The publication of the 2016 Operation Cygnus exercise has exposed the lack of follow on investment by the Conservative government which led to problems of PPE supplies, essential equipment such as ventilators and in ITU capacity. The 2016 exercise was a large-scale event with over 900 participants and occurred during Jeremy Hunt’s tenure as Secretary of State. There needed to be better preparation too on issues such as border controls as we note 190,000 people from China travelled through Heathrow between January-March 2020. Pandemics have been at the top of the UK risk register for years and the question is why were preparations not undertaken and stockpiles shown to be insufficient and sometimes time expired.

    1. Poor political leadership (PM and SoS Health)

    During the pandemic there has been a lack of clarity on what the overall strategy is and inconsistency in decision-making. The New Zealand government for example went for elimination, locked down early, controlled their borders and took the public with them successfully. We have had an over centralised approach from the Prime Minister and SoS for Health such as the NHS Test and Trace scheme and creating the Joint Biosecurity Unit. Contact tracing and engaging the Local Directors of Public Health was stopped on the 12th March and only in the past few weeks have their vital role been acknowledged. Ministers have been overpromising such as the digital apps, the antibody tests, the vaccine trials and novel drug treatments. Each time the phrases such as World Beating and Game Changers have been used prematurely. The Ministerial promises on numbers of tests has been shown to have become a target without an accompanying strategy and the statistics open to question from the UKSA.

    1. Social care

    From the early scientific reports from Wuhan it was clear that COVID-19 was particularly dangerous to older people who have a high mortality rate. A public health perspective would raise this risk factor and plan to protect institutions where older people live. Because of the distressing TV footage from Lombardy (Italy) the government’s main aim was to Protect the NHS. This was laudable and indeed the NHS stood up and had no call on the Nightingale Hospitals, which had a huge investment. The negative side of this mantra was that social care was ignored. As we have seen 40% of care homes have had outbreaks and about a third of COVID related mortality is from this sector. There have been serious ethical questions about policies in Care Homes as well as discharge procedures from the NHS that need teasing out. The private social care sector with 5,500 providers and 11,300 homes is in bad need of reform. Some of the financial transactions of the bigger groups such as HC One need investigation, especially the use of off shore investors who charge high interest on their loans. The SHA believes that the time is right to ‘rescue social care’ taking steps such as employing staff and moving towards a National Care Service.

    1. Inequalities

    It was said at the beginning of the pandemic in the UK that the virus did not respect social class as it affected Prince and Pauper. Prince Charles certainly got infected as did the Prime Minister. However we have seen that COVID-19 has exploited the inequalities in our society by differentially killing people who live in our more deprived communities as shown by ONS data. In addition to deprivation we have seen the additional risk in people of BAME background. The combination of deprivation and BAME populations put local authorities such as Newham, Hackney and Brent in London as having been affected badly. The ONS have also shown that BAME has an additional risk to the extent of being double for people of BAME heritage even taking statistical account for deprivation scores. Occupational risk has also been highlighted in the context of BAME status with the NHS having 40% of doctors of BAME heritage who accounted for 90% of NHS medical deaths. The equivalent proportions are 20% NHS nurses and BAME accounting for 75% deaths. The government tried to bury the Fenton Disparities report and we believe that this is further evidence of institutional racism.

    1. Privatisation

    The SHA is strongly committed to a publicly funded and provided NHS and are concerned about the Privatisation that we have witnessed over the last 10 years. We are concerned about the risks in the arrangement with Private Hospitals, the development of the Lighthouse Laboratories running parallel to NHS ones and the use of digital providers. In addition we feel that there needs to be a review of how contracts were given to private providers in the areas of Testing & Tracing, PPE supplies, Vaccine development and the digital applications. There are concerns about fraud and we note that some companies in the recent past have been convicted of fraud, following investigations by the Serious Fraud Office yet still received large contracts during the pandemic.

    1. Recovery Planning

    During the pandemic many of us have noticed the benefit of reduced traffic in terms of noise and air pollution. Different work patterns such as working from home has also had some benefits. The risk of overcrowded and poor housing has been manifest as well as how migrant workers are treated and housed. Green spaces and more active travel has been welcomed and the need for universal access to fast broadband as well as the digital divide between social class families. With the government having run up a £300bn deficit and who continue to mismanage the pandemic we worry about future jobs and economic prosperity. There is an opportunity to build a different society and having a green deal as part of that. The outcome of the APPG review should on the one hand be critical of the political leadership we have endured but also point to a new way forward that has elements of building a fairer society, creating a National Care Service, funding the NHS and Public Health system in the context of the global climate emergency and the opportunities for a green deal.

    Lets hope that the APPG can do a rapid review so we can learn lessons and not have to wait for years. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry remember was launched by Theresa May in June 2017, and we still await its key findings and justice for those whose lives were destroyed by the fire. The Prime Minister has been pointing the fingers of blame on others for our poor performance with COVID-19 but has accepted that mistakes were made and that an inquiry will be held in the future.

    However often these are mechanisms to kick an issue into the long grass (Bloody Sunday Inquiry) and even when completed can be delayed or not published in full such as the inquiry into Russian interference in our democratic processes. So let’s support the APPG inquiry and the Independent SAGE group who provide balance to the discredited way that scientific advice has been presented. As one commentator has pointed out there are similarities to the John Gummer moment when in 1990 he fed his 4yr old daughter a burger on camera during the BSE crisis. The public inquiry into the BSE scandal called for greater transparency in the production and use of scientific advice. During this crisis we have seen confusion whether on herd immunity, timing of lockdown, test and trace, border and travel controls and the use of facemasks.

    NHS and NIHR

    For the SHA we have been pleased with how the NHS has stood up to the challenge and not fallen over despite the huge strain that has been put under. Despite the expenditure on the Nightingale Hospitals and generous contracts with Private Hospitals these have not made a significant difference. These arrangements certainly helped to provide security in case the NHS intensive care facilities became overwhelmed and allowed some elective diagnostics and cancer care to be undertaken in cold hospital sites. However the lesson from this is the superiority of a national health system with mutual aid and a coherent public service approach to the challenge compared to those countries with privatised health care. The social care sector on the other hand, despite some examples of excellence, is a fragmented and broken system. The pandemic has shown the urgent need to ensure staff have adequate training, are paid against nationally agreed terms and conditions and we create an adequately resourced National Care Service as outlined in our policy of ‘Rescuing Social Care.

    Another area where a national approach has paid off is the leadership provided by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) which helps to integrate National R&D funding priorities and work alongside the Research Councils (MRC/ESRC) and Charitable Research funding such as from the Wellcome Trust and heart/cancer research funders. These strategic research networks use university researchers and NHS services to enable clinical trials to be undertaken and engage with patients and the public. It is through this mechanism that the UK has been able to contribute disproportionately to our knowledge about treatment for COVID-19 and in developing and testing novel vaccines.

    For example the Recovery trial programme has used these mechanisms to enlist patients across the UK in clinical trials. The dexamethasone (steroid) trial showed a reduction in deaths by a third in severely ill patients and is now used worldwide. On the other hand Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro’s hydroxychloroquine has been shown to be ineffective and this evidence will have saved unnecessary treatment and expense across the world.  Such randomised controlled trials are difficult to undertake at scale in fragmented and privatised health systems. The vaccine development and trials have also been built on pre-existing research groups linked to our Universities and Medical Schools. Finally while Hancock’s phone app hit the dust in the Isle of Wight, Professor Tim Spector’s COVID-19 symptom app has managed to enlist 4m users across the country providing useful data about symptoms and incidence of positive tests in real time. This is all from his Kings College London research base reaching out to collaborators in Europe. Ireland has launched the Apple and Google app created with the Irish software company NearForm successfully and it is thought that Northern Ireland is on the way to a similar launch within weeks too!

    A wealth tax?

    In earlier blogs we have drawn attention to the huge debt that the government have run up and we are already seeing the emerging economic damage to the economy and people’s livelihoods when the furloughing scheme is withdrawn in October. Already people are talking about up to 4m unemployed this winter and what this will mean in terms of the economy and funding public services like local government, education and health. The UK’s public finances are on an ‘unsustainable path’ says the Office for Budget Responsibility.

    There is a lot of chatter about the value of a wealth tax and there are some variations to the theme. It is estimated that there is £5.1 trillion of wealth linked to home equity. It is also said that the unearned gains on property are a better target for new taxes than workers earned income. Following this through a think tank has proposed – a property tax paid when a property is sold or an estate if the owner has died. A calculation could be made by taxing at 10% on the difference between the price paid for the property and the price at which it was sold. The % tax could be progressive and increase when the sum exceeds £1m for example. Assuming property rise in value by only 1% per annum this tax would raise £421bn over 25 years. If this sounds like an inheritance tax – that is true but for years now such taxes have become a voluntary tax for those with access to offshore funds and savvy accountants. In the USA, inheritances account for about 40% of household wealth. Fewer than 2 in 1000 estates paid the Federal estate tax even before Trump cut it in 2018. Trusts and other tax havens abound. Apparently Trump’s own Treasury Secretary has placed assets worth $32.9m into his ‘Dynasty Trust 1’

    Inherited wealth has been referred to in earlier blogs in relation to the Duke of Westminster family wealth. Another study which shows how this type of wealth transfer passes down the generations comes from Italy where in 2011 a study of high earners found many of the same families appeared as in the Florence of 1427!

    Populism and COVID

    In our blogs we have pointed to the fact that those countries, in different continents, which have had a bad pandemic experience are ones such as the UK, USA, Brazil, India and Russia. What unites them is a leadership of right wing populists. A recent study has started to analyse why this occurs and what the shared characteristics are:

    1. The leaders blame others – the Chinese virus/immigrants
    2. Deny scientific evidence – use ineffective drugs/resist face masks
    3. Denigrate organisations that promote evidence – CDC/PHE/WHO
    4. Claim to stand for the common people against an out of touch elite.

    What the authors found was that these leaders were successfully undermining an effective response to the pandemic. Sadly there is a risk that populist leaders perversely benefit from suffering and ill health.

    Taking lessons from history and the contemporary global situation we need to continue to speak out against these political forces and advocate for a better fairer recovery.

    27.7.2020

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

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    The threat to cut health visitor and community nurse jobs in County Durham, while Covid-19 is still widespread, has been branded as ‘incomprehensible’ by Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, today (Friday 24 July).

    Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust (HDFT), which is taking over the County Durham 0-25 family health service contract from 1 September, wants to axe about 37 whole time equivalents (WTEs), while the coronavirus is still widespread across the country.

    Although the HDFT also says it wants to employ 21 WTE new posts, there will be a net loss of 16 WTEs out of a workforce of about 230 WTEs.

    Unite lead officer for health in the north east Chris Daly said: “It is almost incomprehensible that when ‘public health’ is foremost in people’s minds because of coronavirus, Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust is swinging the jobs axe.

    “The vast majority of those being earmarked to lose their jobs are health visitors and school nurses – the very professionals at the public health frontline helping families with babies and young children, and children returning to school.

    “Disgracefully, the trust is consulting when staff, have been working flat-out throughout the Covid-19 crisis supporting very stressed families and young people. This flawed exercise is happening before the first wave of the pandemic is over and with the expectation that a second wave will hit this autumn and winter.

    “It is also very wrong that schools and GPs have not been told about the proposed cuts in school nurses. School staff returning in September will be phoning school nurses to come and help with children that they have not seen since March and who may be exhibiting worrying behaviours and dealing with distressing emotions.

    “We believe that already stretched GPs will be expected to pick up the shortfall in keeping babies, children and young people safe. However, there is a real risk that those most at risk may fall through the current safety net that HDFT seems intent on weakening.

    “This is not the time to reduce the health and school nurse provision for children and young people. However, it will be some time before the adverse impact of these cuts are brought into sharp relief.

    “The Durham country council should work with the trust to increase the funding for these essential frontline services. The long-term health of families is never enhanced by reducing the number of healthcare professionals.”

    Unite, which embraces the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA), will be making strong representations on behalf of its members before the consultation process ends on 31 July.

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    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

    https://youtu.be/1jFWY7WmPBA

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

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

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

    — Alan Hall (@alan_ha11) July 5, 2020

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

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

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

    Interestingly, in the video a resident reflects by saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    — Citizens UK (@CitizensUK) July 5, 2020

    Time to pay care workers a London Living Wage

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

    The text of the letter is below.

    Dear Chancellor Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Citizens UK’s Living Wage for Careworkers Charter:

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

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

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

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

    Yours sincerely,

    Cllr Alan Hall

     

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    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.

    Comments Off on SHA COVID-19 Blog 15

     

    1.   Background

     

    1. SHA Cymru Wales is pleased to take the opportunity to help shape Welsh Labour’s policies in regard to health and social care in Wales. Our submission is the product of discussions among SHA members in Wales facilitated via several Zoom sessions and exchanges between members of drafts of the emerging response. The contents reflect the views of our membership. Our membership consists of past and current NHS and care staff from a wide variety of health and care backgrounds and also others who have interests as both citizens and users of different parts of the health and care system in Wales, or who are interested in the politics of health and care, and in political discussion.
    2. The Party explained that the consultation document was finalised before Covid-19 arrived. It is clear that the pandemic has altered significantly the context in which Labour’s policy process now sits. Even though Covid-19 is still a major challenge at the time of writing this submission, SHA Cymru Wales believes that many of the issues arising from it are already clear (and are described in the “Independent Sage Report”). These are addressed in section B below which deliberately adopts a broader “emerging futures” perspective.
    3. Not only has the pandemic impacted on the way the care system now works and is likely to work in the future, it has also impacted more widely on society in terms of altered work patterns, the wider use of technology both inside and outside the care system, and of course upon the ability of the economy to resource public services to the level needed.
    4. Adding further to this new uncertainty is a pre-existing one of the consequences of the U.K withdrawal from the E.U. with probable changes to trade terms. Further the extent to which migrant labour will be available to support the health and care sector in Wales is already being adversely affected by the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. The withdrawal – in particular its impact on food security, medicines safety and existing supply chains – must be fully assessed.
    5. Section C deals with the content of the Policy Document itself. Here members sense a persisting lack of momentum and capacity to deliver the key objectives outlined in “A Healthier Wales”. SHA Cymru Wales accept that a decade of austerity has been a major brake on improvements. Some progress has been made in terms of improved co-operation between health and social care at a local level with the establishment of the Transformation and Integrated Care Funds and increased training posts for a number of professions.
    6. Transformational change however is not taking place in terms of promoting public health and rebalancing the care system towards prevention, anticipatory care and a community/primary care based service.
    7. There have been a number of concerns expressed by the public about the quality, resilience, or consistency, of some clinical services in some parts of Wales. For example, hospital emergency services cherished by local populations are under threat and the reasons advanced for changes have not proved persuasive with the public. NHS in-house elective services struggled to treat patients within the target times set by Welsh Government before Covid-19. One Health Board depends heavily on the private hospital sector to undertake its elective work and is responsible for about 70% of all those referred by the Welsh NHS to private hospitals. Response times of emergency ambulances – often for reasons outside the control of the ambulance service itself -are sometimes longer than the service or ill patients would like. More widely there are some concerns about the resilience of the wider primary care services (including dentistry and pharmacy) in some parts of Wales. Finally there have also been a number of concerns about the quality, resilience or consistency of some clinical services in different parts of Wales.
    8. These concerns suggest an enduring problem either with the way that NHS Wales is resourced to meet the requirements laid upon it, or with the managerial linkages between the Senedd and the different care settings in which: i) the maintenance of good health is pursued; ii) early diagnoses of likely ill health are made; iii) treatment is given to restore people to a state of good health and iv) ongoing care and support is provided.
    9. In particular, SHA Cymru Wales feels that the care system in Wales is unbalanced in that anticipatory care and preventive work – in primary care and through public health measures -remains under-resourced despite the recent initiatives cited in the policy document.
    10. Added to public unease about patient services, are worries about financial control in the Welsh NHS. The abolition of the internal market and it’s replacement with a model based on partnership and co-operation ought to provide Wales with a unique advantage compared with an England system driven by competition, outsourcing of work to the private sector, and debts caused by P.F.I. schemes still needing to be serviced. The strengths of the Welsh NHS need to be more effectively exploited. There are worries too about the effectiveness of the special measures regime that is intended to improve both the immediate management of the Welsh NHS, and the way that changes to services that cross Board boundaries are planned and implemented.
    11. Underlying these concerns is an unease that there is no shared and unifying vision of what the Welsh NHS -with its local government and other partners- is being tasked to achieve for the Welsh public. “Healthier Wales” was intended to be the policy statement providing that radical vision. In our view it has been largely ignored and we return to this later in section C where SHA Cymru Wales suggest that NHS Wales builds upon past Welsh achievements in this regard, puts in place the political and managerial mechanisms to agree evidence-driven national policy objectives to be attained locally, and devises the mechanisms by which improved service delivery on the ground is assured.
    12. There is little detail about true co-production of health by both citizens and care professionals and how this can be moved from rhetoric to reality. This too would be a powerful engine for transformation.

     

    1. Covid 19 and its legacy

     

      1. At the time of writing, members believe that Covid-19 will shape the context in which the management and development of the health and care system in Wales sits. The pandemic vindicates many of the policies and approaches of the Welsh Government. The Welsh public service model stands in stark contrast to the fragmented cocktail of private sector provision and procurement which characterises much of the response in England. The time and effort that has been spent over many years in Wales to build better working relationships between the NHS, local government and the third sector has facilitated a more coherent and coordinated response to the pandemic than appears to have been the case in England.
      1. This public service approach allowed for partnerships at a local level which both responded to the leadership provided by the Welsh Government and to the local challenges faced by front line services. These partnerships should be maintained and refined as important community assets to promote local well -being.

    Proposal 1: SHA Cymru Wales propose that Wales considers creating a permanent “Wales Health and Care Reserve” (WHACR) comprising ex-health and social care staff and other volunteers with a wide variety of skills that can be refreshed through updating training on a regular basis, and who can be called upon in an emergency to assist full- time staff. This reserve should be organised on a neighbourhood or Cluster basis to support community clinical and care networks. It should be supported by schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh award and the Welsh Baccalaureate. Established voluntary bodies with a relevant skill base should be encouraged to become involved.

      1. Welsh Government was correct to seek and encourage a “four nation response” to the pandemic even if it has not always come to the correct conclusion. It is regrettable that this was not always reciprocated by the U.K Government. The devolution settlement came under great strain as the four parts of the U.K. felt it necessary to respond to events as they saw fit. Different approaches to “lock down”, to testing, tracking and protecting across the U.K., and confusion about the purchasing of protective equipment and testing materials, exposed inadequacies in any U.K. wide arrangements meant to deliver a coordinated management to the effects of the virus.

    Proposal 2: SHA Cymru Wales requests that Welsh Labour commit to seek to join with its Scottish and Northern Ireland partners, to pursue revisions to the arrangements that govern these matters with the U.K. Government so that a “four nation” response to any  surge in this pandemic or in future pandemics is maintained. However, we do acknowledge that there will be times when it is necessary for the Welsh Government to take a Wales specific approach and we fully support its right to do so.

      1. SHA Cymru Wales welcomes the Senedd’s early work to review the Welsh experience to date. This is important work in the event of a failure to fully eradicate the Covid-19 virus and if further waves of mass infection have to be faced.

    Proposal 3: SHA Cymru Wales welcomes the First Minister’s support for a public enquiry  to review these events. Its terms of reference should be agreed by all four nations. Further we believe that all advice given to Welsh Government in relation to the options for managing this crisis should be made available to the public.

      1. SHA Cymru Wales recognises the pressure the Welsh Government faced in creating extra health provision as the Covid-19 pandemic began. This meant that the distinction between the health and social care systems became blurred as hospital patients were moved from acute beds to care homes in order to deal with an expected influx of patients with Covid-19. The result was that care homes were put at risk from viral transmission from hospital to care home settings. Further, people receiving domiciliary care services were also exposed to risks from itinerant care staff. Quickly the care system– comprising a range of privately run businesses of different sizes and types– required a degree of state support and guidance to sustain its operations. These took time to put in place. In this context SHA Cymru Wales congratulate the Welsh Government for ensuring a consistent supply of PPE to the care sector, for its extension of the testing regime in line with professional advice, and for the financial support provided to front line social care workers and others.

    Proposal 4: The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the integrated nature of health and social care and the need for quarantine facilities, equity of equipment, training, pay and quality facilities for the social care sector as well as for the NHS.These arrangements should be put in place as soon as possible.

      1. This scale of public service support needed for the social care sector must raise fundamental questions as to the long-term resilience of the current private sector business model.

    Proposal 5: As part of a process of major reform SHA Cymru Wales urge that the social care workforce in Wales is immediately transferred to the public service and that the Welsh Government brings the management of the care sector back under public control and leadership.

      1. Covid-19 has made it clear that the care system is fragmented – relying on multiple contracts with private sector providers especially those driven by commercial aims. Covid-19 exposed the inherent vulnerabilities in the present social care business model.

    Proposal 6: SHA Cymru Wales believes that the time has come for the main components of adult social care in Wales to be brought under public control, stewardship, or ownership and funded broadly on the same basis as the NHS. Domiciliary care services should be brought under the purview of local authorities first.

      1. “Personal care”, whether given at home or in a residential care setting, should be accepted as requiring oversight from the nursing profession and be delivered free under the NHS by staff trained to support individuals needing such care.

    Proposal 7: SHA Cymru Wales recommend that work commences as soon as possible on assessing at what speed, and in what way, the transfer of selected services from the private sector in Wales to the public sector can best be achieved to forge a new and equal partnership of health and social care services in Wales. SHA Cymru Wales asks that work be done to assess the costs, benefits, and problems that would arise from such a change.

      1. Room should be left for selected services to be operated by bona fide charities, co-operatives, and other voluntary groups where they have the skills and / or a reputation that resonates with the public. For example, Marie Curie Cancer Care, services supporting people affected by substance misuse, and charities supporting people through physical disabilities and mental ill health would meet this criteria. Here grants should be considered as an alternative to the formal contracts of a commercial relationship.
      1. While the present pandemic is unprecedented in its extent it does highlight the problems that the NHS and social care face when placed under excess demand, as frequently happens with the regular “winter bed crises”.
      1. The current DGH model combining elective and urgent surgery with emergency medical admissions alongside obstetric and paediatric services may need to be re-thought so that acute hospitals no longer operate consistently at very high levels of bed occupancy providing little head room for seasonal variations in demand. Elective capacity should be maintained in a protected environment by “built in” physical and engineering design and by so managing the protection and deployment of care staff so that transmission of any contagious infection is minimised. Similar considerations need to apply to ambulance services, primary care, community nursing, mental health and other health services, and indeed adult and children’s social care.
      1. 12. In England changes made to the public health function by transferring it to local government and then subjecting it (and other services) to reduced financial allocations have impaired its ability to react quickly and decisively to effect the necessary public health shut down testing and tracking arrangements long associated with controlling such diseases. The use of private sector contractors adds to fragmentation of the service. SHA Cymru Wales supports the current  arrangements in Wales whereby a strong public health tradition set within a public service model has been preserved and is able to serve both Welsh Government, Welsh local government, the Welsh NHS, and the wider public interest. However, SHA Cymru Wales share the concerns of those who feel that the Welsh Public Health function has become too concentrated at its centre and has insufficient presence in or influence within local authorities, health boards, and their partners at a community and neighbourhood level.

    Proposal 8: SHA Cymru Wales propose that Directors of Public Health should simultaneously hold statutory posts both in their local Health Board and in their local authority. This draws on past practice where medical officers of public health had a “proper officer“ function in local government with appropriate links with Environmental Health, Education, Community Development, and social care colleagues. Post holders should provide for both bodies an annual report describing local health status and how challenges of health inequalities should be, or are being met. The report should be taken in the public part of the agenda and drawn to the attention of community councils.This topic must feature highly in the performance regime linking Welsh Government, Local Government, and health Boards.

      1. The pandemic has facilitated, or required, new ways of delivering patient services, managing organisations, and connecting communities. Many people have now experienced remote consultations with their GP or hospital services via video conferencing. Diagnostic results have been shared via the internet between clinicians. Engagement of staff and the wider public in remote discussions have brought into question the traditional ways of linking patients and their relatives. New ways of managing organisations have also emerged as “working from home” has expanded.

    Proposal 9: Welsh Government should ensure that all citizens have reliable access to easy- to- use internet technology so that new forms of “ digital inequality” do not arise. Part of the work of WHACR cited above (Proposal 1) could be to assist people whose abilities or technical skills are not commensurate with relying on complicated technology.    

      1. SHA Cymru Wales believes, along with the Independent Sage Report, that these experiences have increased the desire and ability of communities and people to take an active part in debates about how their care services and indeed other facets of life – need to be re-fashioned “from the bottom up”. This sits alongside the ongoing development of GP clusters with a stronger community or neighbourhood focus.
      1. Covid-19 will leave a harsh legacy and a massive workload in terms of both physical and mental health rehabilitation for patients. This will be in addition to the NHS and social care catching up with deferred elective care delayed due to the pandemic. There is clear evidence that the excess death rate experienced over recent months is not solely due to Covid-19. While it is not fully understood why this is the case, it is probable that a significant proportion is due to the failure to seek, or obtain, health care in a timely way. Also, Welsh Government must prepare for what has been described as a tsunami of rehabilitation care as patients recover from severe episodes of Covid-19 infections and the impact upon their mental health. It must also anticipate – and plan to deal with – a legacy of stress experienced by care staff in Wales.

    Proposal 10: The Welsh Government should establish an urgent working group to plan how health and social care in Wales can recover from the longer-term consequences of Covid-19 on our country to both address the backlog in deferred need and the increased demand for physical and mental health rehabilitation. This should include consideration of making best use of recently commissioned health and care capacity.

     

    1. A critique of the Stage 2 document

     

      1. The Parliamentary Review on Health and Social Care in Wales concluded that there was an urgent need for rapid transformational change in Welsh health and social care services. This has been acknowledged by the Welsh Government. Welsh Labour’s consultation document however neither develops nor furthers this vision, nor does it convey an appropriate sense of urgency about the timing and nature of such change. It is a “steady as she goes” approach with “more of the same”. There is no clear set of priorities, sense of direction, or a picture of what the future of health and social care service in Wales ought to look like for service users, their families and carers.
      1. The stand-still in life expectancy in Wales over the last decade with the persisting health inequalities scarcely merits a mention – again with no policy proposals as to how to respond. The Covid-19 pandemic highlights these inequalities where the most socially disadvantaged communities carried the heaviest illness burden.
      1. Concerns remain about the failure to transform service delivery in line with both the Parliamentary Review and A Healthier Wales. This is exemplified by the tolerance of low levels of investment in primary care and a failure to recruit sufficient clinical staff.

    Proposal 11: GP numbers should be increased to produce an average list size of 1,400 patients per GP. Starting in those clinical network areas with the poorest health profile and least health and social care inputs. Where the traditional GP contractor model is failing to deliver these numbers, health boards need to take the lead in directly employing multi- professional primary care team members, including well supported salaried GPs.

      1. By reducing list sizes, patients will have easier access to, and more time with, their health care professionals so that a long-term caring relationship can be built biased towards prevention and anticipatory care. These communities, and other at-risk groups such as vulnerable children, care home residents, people with chronic illness and multiple morbidity etc. must be clearly identified and the outcomes from the care they receive be continually monitored with a view to continuing improvement. Clinical networks need to become a stronger focus for service innovation through a vision of health and well-being stretching far beyond a narrow medical horizon. The tools of public health and community development need to be harnessed to create stronger, healthier, resilient, and more engaged communities.
      1. These networks must be further enabled to lead the shift away from over-dependence on secondary care and towards localised anticipatory and preventive services aimed at maintaining independence. This shift of resource must enable the GP:patient ratio to improve. It must respond to the challenge of “the inverse care law” and must underpin an increase in primary care resources and effort aimed at reversing the unexpectedly stalled improvements in mortality indicators.
      1. General practice must no longer be viewed as a set of tasks carried out in isolation. It must regain its role as family practice committed to understanding local communities and the families that live in them and supporting them in pursuing their own good health. Practitioners in community development, social prescribing, and advocacy on community issues, must sit alongside continuity of care as part of a team of professionals serving the community.

    Proposal 12: Each neighbourhood should have public health input and advice and should be integrated into the work of primary care clusters. This should be marked with a change of name; clusters should become “neighbourhood networks.”

      1. Public health, primary care (including community pharmacies) and its estate should increasingly combine with other community assets such as post offices, food banks and community volunteers to create hubs which mix primary care provision with schools and community and leisure centres. In this way healthy living can be promoted and communities empowered to change the local culture and environment.
      1. SHA Cymru Wales sees neighbourhoods as the basic democratic unit of the NHS where the local community, comprising both professionals and local people, work to bring about beneficial changes and fashion the NHS as a people’s endeavour. As an example, indicators of any local “food poverty” should be devised as a health measure – for Covid-19 has both highlighted the frailties in how people access food and also brought about beneficial changes locally to support vulnerable people and build new partnerships. Nutrition is recognised as a determinant of health. Food poverty drives health inequalities whether caused by low income levels, unavailability or inadequate skills and accommodation. One suggestion that should be explored is the development of a national food service in Wales tasked with removing food poverty in Wales.
      1. SHA Cymru Wales is pleased to note that part of our submission last year urging the development of housing that supports the independence of older people and others with care needs was welcomed by the Party. SHA Cymru Wales looks forward to further work on developing emerging community models of engagement such as the Local Area Co-ordination arrangements operating in Swansea and similar initiatives elsewhere.

    Proposal 13: SHA Cymru Wales request that the consolidation and expansion of initiatives cited above be included in the manifesto along with a prototype “ Resilient Communities fund” to be deployed in a number of challenged localities to underpin and build on existing volunteer / community efforts such as those operating food box schemes and medicine / prescription deliveries.

      1. Further steps should now be taken to utilise technology so that patient medical and social care records can be “jointly owned” by care practitioners and citizens.

    Proposal 14: SHA Cymru Wales supports pilot projects currently exploring how patients can access and “co-own” their medical records as part of the co-production of good health.

      1. Primary care investment must not be at the expense of clearing the backlog that has built up in the mainstream service provision for cancer, stroke, heart disease and re-ablement surgery (e.g. hip and knee replacement). Nor should a current lack of capacity in services for children and young people with learning needs and mental health issues be allowed to continue.
      1. As noted earlier, for years it has become acceptable to attempt to run the hospital sector on a 90%+ occupancy rate. We have seen the problems this creates with perennial winter bed pressure crises but the onset of Covid-19 has shown the other inherent risks from constantly running the service at maximum capacity most of the time.

    Proposal 15: Staff and patient safety requirements must require the acute hospital system always to run with headroom for the predictable, cyclic variation in annual demand.

      1. Another concern of members was an uncertainty about what the 21st century purpose of the Welsh health and care system ought to be. Twenty years ago Wales had a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its strategic planning processes – aimed at achieving a level of health in Wales on a par with the best in Europe – and its ability to make progress. Evidence was gathered about the best preventive programmes, diagnostic techniques, treatment options, and after-care services across Europe and used to counter the main causes of premature death in Wales and the main causes of significant but avoidable morbidity in Wales. Health Boards (then known as health authorities) – with their partners – used the evidence to craft “local protocols for health” that were resource effective, people-centred, and aimed at increasing the length and quality of life in all parts of Wales. Despite, or perhaps because of, the success of this approach, John Redwood’s arrival in Wales saw the end of this work, no doubt in the belief that market forces would do the planning for Wales. In the view of some, since then NHS Wales has struggled to design a clinical and managerial process that systematically tackles health inequalities and improves health status in Wales.
      1. SHA Cymru Wales believes that Wales should draw heavily on that earlier strategic approach. For while SHA Cymru Wales accepts that Welsh Labour has had a strategic vision since the Wanless report in 2003, and “ A Healthier Wales” that has merit, it has not been accompanied by processes that translate strategy into deliverable Health Board and Trust 3 Year Integrated Medium Term Plans (IMTPs) able to be fully implemented by Health Boards, NHS trusts, and their key partners. The chain of accountability is opaque. Boards are, or appear to be, still dominated by secondary care voices

    Proposal 16: Welsh Labour should provide a clear statement of what the Welsh care system is meant to do (and by derivation what it isn’t) using a National Planning framework within which Health Boards and Trusts have to develop and deliver their plans. SHA Cymru Wales suggest that the Health Boards give a stronger voice for primary and community care and citizens in this process. A clear set of evidence- driven political and managerial processes are needed by which the aims of the Welsh NHS, and the resources needed to achieve those aims, are directly linked. Exhortations to “ do something”, on their own, are unlikely to achieve much.

      1. Setting a national direction and strategic intent must be underpinned by effective local delivery mechanisms to deliver the objectives of A Healthier Wales. The abolition of the internal market in Wales provided a unique opportunity to develop an integrated planning and delivery system at a local level to give effect to the national strategic purpose and direction. However, this has proved more than problematic. Some health boards are subject to Welsh Government intervention of varying extent, and varying success. Repeated reviews have expressed concerns at the capacity and governance of local health and social care planning and delivery. SHA Cymru Wales welcomes the partnership working that is taking place at regional partnership boards, but this process has got to mature, be more transparent and be accountable.
      1. In the light of the foregoing, SHA Cymru Wales welcomes the proposal for a “national executive” as outlined in the Final Report of the Parliamentary Review. The Parliamentary Review recommended that this “national executive” should be about strengthening executive functions to help align national strategic priorities with local service changes and innovations. The present slow pace of change suggests that this is urgently needed. It specifically suggested that the “national executive” should be aligned with national social care policy. SHA Cymru Wales recommends that the “national executive” should be the key national agency for integrating and driving forward both a National Health and a National Care service in Wales.
      1. SHA Cymru Wales is concerned that the consultation document chooses to specifically mention “specialist and hospital-based services” when considering the roles of the “national executive”. This is at odds with the core message of both the Parliamentary Review and A Healthier Wales. Both speak of transforming our care services away from an over-reliance on the hospital sector. We also regret that the policy consultation document makes no reference to the Parliamentary Review’s proposal that the work of the “national executive” should be underpinned by an explicit and transparent performance framework by which progress can be measured with particular reference to measuring progress in improving public health and tackling health inequalities.

    Proposal 17: SHA Cymru Wales believes that a National Health and Social Care Executive, tasked with delivering national health and social care in a clear, evidence based, and coherent way could deliver the transformational change needed. However, it must have clear terms of reference and its performance should be underpinned by a clear and transparent performance framework. The terms of reference, and the performance framework should both be subject to consultation with key stakeholders.

      1. There is also a view that the wider public, and local communities, feel excluded from some of the decision making in the care system. Local Government services in principle have a direct line of accountability to their populations through elected councillors and scrutiny committees. If the proposals in 16 and 17 above are implemented, local government should have an increased oversight of the care system as a whole.

    Proposal 18: SHA Cymru Wales recommends that Welsh Government place a legal requirement on Welsh local authorities to institute rigorous oversight and scrutiny arrangements in regard to the work of both Health Boards and the performance of the local care system as a whole. SHA Cymru Wales suggests that these scrutiny committees should have a minimum of three independent (non councillor) members nominated by local interest groups that can provide an informed view of how local service delivery is experienced by citizens and service users and what changes users desire.

      1. The policy document understandably makes little mention of the resources likely to be available the Welsh NHS and its local government partners over the course of the next four years. The damage done to the U.K. and Welsh economy by the pandemic is still to be assessed, as are the uncertainties of leaving the E.U. However, the NHS and social care in Wales already consumes over half of the block grant. Even with these spending levels, the Welsh NHS is under- powered both in primary care and acute secondary care.
      1. SHA Cymru Wales has long held the view that not only is the Barnett formula in need of refinement, but successive Conservative governments have not operated it fairly across the devolved polities. Further, there is limited scope to deploy the (limited) tax-raising powers now available to Wales in a way that can significantly increase the money available to Welsh Government. It is suggested that Welsh Government should adopt a four pronged strategy to address the issue of spending constraints. The first is to seek to increase – by a fair application of the Barnett formula –the funding available to Welsh Government from U.K. Government. The second is via Welsh taxation and growing the Welsh economy. The third is to examine in an ongoing way the operating costs of the Welsh NHS and social care, applying legitimate cost-saving measures where possible. One example is to examine critically the way in which newly licensed medicines are introduced in Wales. The current system requires only that the new product is not inferior to an existing (often cheaper) product rather than requiring either a superior treatment or lower spending. The fourth is to introduce a long term cost avoidance program that is driven by a primary care and public health preventive and anticipatory care approaches outlined in paragraphs C 14-17.
      1. The Welsh Government seeks to allocate its resources to health boards and local authorities on a needs-based formula. However, a thick fog hangs over how these allocations are used once these local organisations receive them. The First Minister correctly said that there are more inequalities within the populations served by health boards and local authorities than there are between the individual organisations Currently there is no obvious way to assess and compare how these inequalities within health boards and local authorities are addressed.

    Proposal 19: Public Health Wales and Stats Wales should develop a methodology by which it will be possible to measure inputs and outcomes in terms of resource allocation to the most vulnerable communities and groups within health boards and local authorities.

     

      1. Finally, it is suggested that the efforts of the NHS (and its local government partners) to contribute to the “green agenda” be welcomed. This aspect of its work should be highlighted and reported publicly as part of the overall performance regime.

     

    1. Conclusion

     

    1. The unexpected arrival of the pandemic, and the havoc and loss of life it has wrought has altered the perspective from which future health and care policy can be assessed. It threw into sharp relief those individuals and communities that are our most vulnerable.
    2. For this reason our response has been crafted in two parts – one to anticipate needed changes in order to make the Welsh care system more resilient to any future virus, and another to address challenges that were obvious prior to the arrival of Covid-19, but have proved resistant to change. SHA Cymru Wales believes that the 19 proposals described above will make a positive contribution to the health status of the people of Wales and it commends these to the Party.

    Labour Stage 2 SHA Cymru Wales final response Health and Social Care

    2 Comments

    SHA POLICY ON ADULT SOCIAL CARE AND CARERS

    This policy document is our first significant step towards a more complete statement on social care. It will require further work over time with our members and others. It fleshes out the motion that we carried about a year ago which reads as follows:

    RESCUING SOCIAL CARE

    England’s Social Care system is broken. Local Authorities faced £700m cuts in 2018-9 with £7 billion slashed since 2010. 26% fewer elderly receive support, demand grows.

    People face isolation, indignity, maltreatment, neglect, barriers to inclusion and independent living.

    Most care is privatised, not reflecting user needs/wishes. Public money goes to shareholders and hedge funds as profits.  Service users and families face instability as companies go bust.

    Staff wages, training and conditions are slashed.  Staff turnover is 30+%.

    8 million unpaid, overworked family carers, including children and the elderly, provide vital support.

    Conference demands Labour legislates a duty on the SoS to provide a universal system of social care and support acknowledging a right to independent living wherever possible:

    • Based on need and offering choice.
    • Meeting the needs of all disabled, frail and sick throughout life with robust safeguarding procedures.
    • Free at the point of use, universally provided, fully funded through progressive taxation
    • Subject to national standards based on Human Rights, choice, dignity and respect for all, complying with the UN Rights of persons with disabilities, including Articles on Independent Living (19) Highest Attainable Health (25) and Education (24).
    • Democratically run services, delivered through local public bodies working co-productively together with users and carers.
    • Training to nationally agreed qualifications, career structure, pay and conditions.
    • Gives informal carers strong rights and support, including finances and mental health.

    Labour to establish a taskforce involving users and carers/Trade Unions/relevant organisations to deliver the above, including an independent advocate system, and national independent living support service.

    FOR INFORMATION

    National independent living service – from the ROFA document https://www.rofa.org.uk/independent-living-for-the-future/

    The social care element of Disabled people’s right to independent living will be administered through a new national independent living service managed by central government, but delivered locally in co-production with Disabled people. It will be provided on the basis of need, not profit, and will not be means tested. It will be independent of, but sit alongside, the NHS and will be funded from direct taxation.

    The national independent living service will be responsible for supporting disabled people through the self-assessment/assessment process, reviews and administering payments to individual Disabled people. Individuals will not be obliged to manage their support payments themselves if they choose not to.

    Authored by Brian Fisher and a group of SHA experts and those with lived experience?

    Full document for downloading in both PDF and Doc format.

    Rescuing Social Care SHA policy May 2020

    Rescuing Social Care SHA policy May 2020

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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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    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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