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    Health care and treatment in the UK

    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.

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

    Test and Trace

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

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

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

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

    Workplaces

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

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

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

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

    Contact tracing

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

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

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

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

    Social distancing

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

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

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

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

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

    29.6.2020

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

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

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

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

    BAME

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

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

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

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

    Test and Trace

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

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

    The app!

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

    PPE contracts

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

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

    And finally

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

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

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

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

    Hear hear.

    22.6.2020

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

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    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

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    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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    ECONOMIC RECOVERY

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

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

    TEST, TRACE, ISOLATE

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Information Governance and Track, Trace and Isolate

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

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

    Clients got their personal data hacked.

    Dido Harding

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


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

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

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

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

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

    CONTRACTS WITH PRIVATE COMPANIES

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

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

    PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES

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

    RELEASING PROFESSIONAL STAFF AT THE NO 10 MEETING

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

    OPENING SCHOOLS

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

    EXCESS DEATHS

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

    TAKE THE NHS OUT OF ANY TRADE DEALS WITH THE US

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

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

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

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

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

    1 Comment

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

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

    Lonely Ministers

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

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

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

    What is the strategy?

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

    Led by the science?

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

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

    Test, Trace and Isolate (TTI)

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

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

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

    Auditing misuse of public funds

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

    BAME communities and COVID

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

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

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

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

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

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

    7.6.2020

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

    2 Comments

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

    Germany and Greece 

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

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

    Test, trace and isolate

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

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

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

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

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

    Independent SAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    When should a School Reopen?

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    31.5.2020

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

    1 Comment

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

    The government ‘s centralised programme in England for testing and tracing – and the use of outsourcing

    1. Key messages:

    • The Government has not yet passed the five tests it set itself for easing lockdown
    • The government said that it would only consider easing lockdown once the country has passed five tests. One of these tests [TEST 5] is “confidence that we can avoid a second peak of infection that overwhelms the NHS”
    • The Devolved Administrations and many scientists and public health professionals doubt whether or not we have “passed this test” They doubt we have the capacity to detect and respond to local surges in infection or control outbreaks as lockdown is eased – and that a second or even third peak of infection will occur. Policy is diverging across the UK with mixed messaging to the public and a high risk of losing a coherent and effective strategy of suppression.
    • To manage our “exit “from lock down we need to be able to recognise new cases when they occur, test and isolate people who are infected, trace and test their contacts – and to have the flexibility resource and leadership to organise responses at a local level.
    • Other countries in Europe are using phased lifting of measures, across regions and settings. The EU Roadmap states that “the lifting of measures should start with those with a local impact and be gradually extended to measures with a broader geographic coverage, taking into account national specificities. This would allow to take more effective action, tailored to local conditions where this is appropriate, and to re-impose restrictions as necessary, if a high number of new cases occurs (e.g. introducing a cordon sanitaire)” For example, why would there be a relaxation of control measures in dense urban areas with crowded public transport at the same time as some parts of the UK that have had no new confirmed cases for 18 plus days and some areas with very few cases? We need detailed stats and maps by district council of all new cases by area of residence over time (at a more granular level than unitary authorities) The Orkney Western isles and Shetland remain in lock down when they have had no cases for 18, 21 and 32 days respectively and when a cordon sanitaire could be put in place
    • Integrated response In order to lift measures while retaining control of the virus, we must identify cases rapidly, isolate and contact trace: so testing is crucial but we must have the ability to test the right people and to rapidly act on the results

    o Prevention of new cases is always better and much cheaper than critical care. Investment in hospitals to respond to COVID19 has been absolutely necessary but will always have less impact on population level health outcomes than control measures.

    o The UK has an excellent public health and primary care system, both of which have been eroded and underfunded in the last 10 years. There are skills and knowledge and capability in these that would provide an effective and efficient response to moving through the next phases of the pandemic, if invested in. However, both these sectors have been excluded and marginalised to the detriment of their local communities

    o For a “test, trace and isolate “ system of control and response to outbreaks to be effective, data must be shared and agencies need to work together at national , regional and local level , coordinate and integrate their response if it is to be effective .No one agency has the knowledge , skills, or resources to do this on their own – and Whitehall in particular needs to recognise that central control is bound to fail.

    o Capacity for testing should provide real time data to help monitor community transmission, link with contact tracing systems and enable local authorities to function autonomously, as well as part of a national response to this pandemic.

    o Much of the infrastructure for testing commissioned by the Government has been led centrally – much of it has been established from scratch. The original drivers for increasing testing capacity were to:

        1. Allow NHS staff to be released back to work on the front line and
        2. respond politically to the growing criticism about the UKs track record on testing o The plight of care homes and the huge death toll from COVID 19 in those institutions is a classic illustration of the failures, which result from over centralization and reliance on hierarchical control and power. This example also illustrates the potential of local government and effective leadership to understand and respond quickly to local circumstances, to innovate, and to “stitch systems “together and make them work.
    • Outsourcing in England Rather than invest or expand our existing laboratory system Ministers chose instead to outsource the provision of testing for COVID 19 in England. They used special powers to bypass normal tendering and award a string of multimillion pound contracts for delivering and processing tests to private companies such as Deloitte, Randox laboratories [£ 133 million] and involved big pharma companies such as GSK, Roche and AstraZeneca and university research teams in creating mega or “ Lighthouse “ labs. These organisations:
      1. Provide swab tests on hospital patients and COVID tests run by NHS labs and Public Health England.
      2. Collect swabs from NHS workers, social care staff and other key workers at 50 drive -in centres and 70 mobile units, which are processed and reported on through a network of 3 mega “lighthouse “ labs
      3. Send out home testing kits for eligible persons with coronavirus symptoms, aged 65 or over, or who cannot work from home
      4. Offer an “on -line portal “through which CQC registered care homes [65 +] can order test kits
      5. Issue serology and swab tests for ONS surveillance and research studies
    • Together Government claims that they can offer 100000 tests a day.

    o However when backlogs develop, they tend to operate as separate “ silos” as illustrated when 50000 tests were sent to the US rather than workload shared between them.

    o More importantly, this testing system does not provide or allow access to test data by local organisations or Public Health England.

    o More than half of tests by May12th have been done by outsourced companies and results are “disappearing into a black hole” A Health Service Journal analysis on May 13th said that recent government testing figures “suggests that in recent days around two thirds of tests have taken place under the commercial lab scheme, for which the data is not available locally. This includes more than 7,000 positive test results in the past three days, and tens of thousands over recent weeks”.

    o Most tests [except for care homes] are demand led, random in nature, and requested by individuals from a wide catchment area. As such, they do not provide useful information for detecting spikes or patterns of infection in a particular geographical area, local “hot spots” or for managing outbreaks. Furthermore, test data are not completely post coded nor are they analysed at a sub-regional or local authority level, local authorities and PHE have found it difficult to get hold of these data.

    • Real time analysis and assessment of infection

    o The Government proposes to establish a Joint Biosecurity Centre with an independent analytical function which will

    o a) provide real time analysis and assessment of infection outbreaks at a community level and collect a wide range of data to build a picture of COVID-19 infection rates across the country – from testing, environmental and workplace data to local infrastructure testing (e.g. swab tests)

    o b) have a response function that will advise on the overall prevalence of COVID-19, identify specific actions to address local spikes in infections, in partnership with local agencies and guide local actions through a clear set of protocols based on the best scientific understanding of COVID-19, and what effective local actions look like.

    o We welcome the commitment to ensure that the Joint Biosecurity Centre [JBC] works closely with local partners. We would like some input into the design of the data platform, as well as discussion about rights of data contributors to access all data sets, which are held.

    o We do not believe that the JBC should have a response function, which “guides local actions surges through a series of protocols. “

    o Lessons from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic about over centralisation and hierarchical control – delays, rigidity, lack of autonomy to act, failure to listen and respond to local intelligence need to be learnt.

    Once again, they have outsourced this analytical function to a large number of private sector organisations. The strategy states that NHS England and NHS improvement have total control over access to all NHS test data will guide and inform the COVID 19 response during lock down – but so far they have not consulted local authorities or PHE about the proposal to create this JBC or involved them in the design, access and linkage to this data store. NHS England has created difficulties and even stopped local agencies from having access to important data sets, such as 111 calls.

    o Contact tracing: Contact tracing at scale can help reduce onward transmission during release from lockdown, if properly resourced by skilled people and well organised. It is unclear how their trace and track system will be integrated with the testing system.

    We are concerned that the Government has

      1. outsourced the call centre to SERCO given its previous track record [breast cancer catch up]
      2. believe that one hour of training as call handler will be sufficient to run this online and phone based contact tracing system,
      3. place so much reliance on an experimental App for contact tracing.
      4. recruited insufficient skilled contact tracers to impact on the “R” number, not made sufficient effort to recruit people with experience of contact tracing e.g. EHOs or retired professionals to the clinical team.

    The government states that for its test and trace system to work, several systems need to be built and successfully integrated. These include:

        • widespread swab testing with rapid turn-around time, digitally-enabled to order the test and securely receive the result certification;
        • local authority public health services to bring a valuable local dimension to testing, contact tracing and support to people who need to self-isolate;
        • automated, app-based contact-tracing through the new NHS COVID-19 app to (anonymously) alert users when they have been in close contact with someone identified as having been infected;

    Conclusions

    o The Testing and Tracing infrastructure which the government has commissioned has been largely been outsourced to private sector organisations and very centralised

    o As such it is a “quick fix which is poorly designed and ill equipped to support the next stage of controlling this pandemic and involving the many agencies which need to play their part as lockdown are eased.

    o The considerable investment which has been made in these new “ temporary “ structures should be channelled over the next 2 to 3 years into building a more robust, flexible , resilient and multilevel , public health and primary care systems , capable of responding to pandemics in the future.

    Sources

    Posted by Brian Fisher on behalf of the Policy Team.

     

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

    The impact of the pandemic on inequalities more generally and the implications for policy and plans going forward

    Key messages

    • The pandemic has hit us when we have already seen health inequities widen
      • 10 years of austerity have disproportionately affected the least affluent and the most vulnerable
      • Life expectancy has plateaued and inequalities in mortality have widened in recent years. The gap in healthy life expectancy at birth is about 19 years for both males and females.
      • Spending constraints between 2010 and 2014 were associated with an estimated 45,000 more deaths than expected: those aged >60 and in care homes accounted for the majority
      • There has been a systematic attack on the social safety net. Services have been cut disproportionately in more deprived areas with a clear North South divide, and there are higher rates of poverty in the Devolved Administrations who have limited powers to mitigate the impact of poverty. Child poverty has increased to over 4 million children
    • The COVID19 pandemic is having major impacts on health, through direct and indirect effects, summarised the in diagram below

    Source: Douglas et all, BMJ April 2020

    • The pandemic strategies are not clear across the UK and do not adequately recognise the unequal direct and indirect impacts.
      • The epidemic is at different stages in different communities and has caused more deaths in dense urban and more deprived areas.
      • It can be seen as multiple outbreaks. These are affecting the most vulnerable people inequitably, such as those in institutional settings, prisons and migrant detention facilities, homes with multiple occupancy, and households that are overcrowded or contain multiple generations.
      • A policy of managing the virus rather than aiming for suppression, may result in repeated surges, local outbreaks and lockdowns which could exacerbate the impact on health and further widen health inequities
      • The centralisation of data and decision-making has meant that approaches cannot be matched to the needs that only the regional and local level will know well enough and in real time
    • There is a consensus that the COVID19 pandemic has a major potential to widen health inequities,
      • As can be seen from the diagram above, the health impacts are likely to have differential effects on different groups of people, in particular:
        • Those most vulnerable to the infection: such as older people, BAME people, those living in enclosed settings
        • Those on low incomes or living with financial insecurity
        • Vulnerable families: for example, those at risk of domestic violence, those who are poorly housed, children at risk of abuse or neglect
        • Those at risk of social isolation
        • Vulnerable groups: for example, the homeless, people with disabilities, undocumented migrants
        • High vulnerability and institutional settings where outbreaks can occur rapidly.
        • This pandemic has made us focus on older people, and the young are paying a high price for protecting the old. Impacts on the young will have more long-lasting impacts on health inequities
        • Inadequate public health expenditure and ‘shrinking the state’ disproportionately affect poorer people including our BAME communities. More ‘austerity’ to ‘pay for’ the pandemic is not an option as austerity widens the health inequalities that lead to disproportionate mortality due to direct and indirect impacts of COIVD19
    • Deprivation: people living in more deprived areas are more likely to die from COVID19
      •  ONS analyses have shown that the age-standardised mortality rate of deaths involving COVID-19 in the most deprived areas of England was 55.1 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 25.3 deaths per 100,000 population in the least deprived areas. In Wales, the most deprived areas had a mortality rate for deaths involving COVID-19 of 44.6 deaths per 100,000 population, almost twice as high as the least deprived area of 23.2 deaths per 100,000 population.
      • The Kings College Symptoms tracker found that COVID-19 prevalence and severity became rapidly distributed across the UK within a month of the WHO declaration of the pandemic, with significant evidence of urban hot-spots, which tend to be more deprived areas.
      • The openSAFELY cohort study used national primary care electronic health record data linked to in-hospital COVID-19 death data, which is the largest cohort study in the world, examining 17 million primary care records. This showed a gradient from least deprived to most deprived, adjusted for age, sex and risk factors, so that people living in the most deprived quintile have a risk of 1.75 that of people in the least deprived

    Hazard ratio for in hospital COVID19 death (adjusted for age/sex/risk factors

    IMD quintile of deprivation
    • Unequal impacts
      • People living in more deprived areas are more likely to be exposed to COVID19:
        • Population density and overcrowding: urban poverty
        • Occupational exposure: more likely to be key workers and less likely to be able to work from home
        • Vulnerable groups e.g. homeless, refugees and asylum seekers, substance misusers
      • People living in more deprived areas are more likely to die when they get sick with COVID19:
        • They develop multiple co-morbidities at younger age (people in the most deprived areas get sick 10 years younger than the most affluent)
        • Equity of access to quality health and social care mitigates this, but has become eroded as austerity has hit services in the poorest areas most
        • They are more likely to also be from BAME groups
    • We have evidence on what works to reduce inequities in health
      • We know what causes inequities in health outcomes. The WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health in states that inequities are caused by the conditions in which we are born, grown, work and live. There is now a large body of evidence from expert reports on health inequalities from academic as well as government sponsored reviews (Black and Acheson) for the past 40 years.
      • We know what works to tackle inequities in health: this can be usefully summarised by Sir Michael Marmot’s six policy areas for action:
        • Give every child the best start in life
        • Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives
        • Create fair employment and good work for all
        • Ensure healthy standard of living for all
        • Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities
        • Strengthen the role and impact of ill-health prevention
      • No strategy: the UK government has not prioritised health inequalities, and England has had no health inequalities strategy since 2010, although devolved nations have policies within the constraints of their powers.
      • But we have assets: We have seen how individuals and communities are resilient, and this has been amply demonstrated in their amazing response to this public health crisis. We should be following Prof Sir Michael Marmot’s advice: “Our vision is of creating conditions for individuals to take control of their own lives. For some communities this will mean removing structural barriers to participation, for others facilitating and developing capacity and capability through personal and community development”

    Conclusions:

    1. There are already major inequities in health outcomes in the UK, and these have been getting worse
    2. COIVD19 is disproportionately killing the less affluent and those in vulnerable groups
    3. There is a very high risk that the indirect impact of COVID19 will worsen health inequities through well-known mechanisms.
      • Greater vulnerabilities: for example, the higher prevalence of co-morbidities and complex multi-morbidities, ethnicity, disability
      • Higher exposure: for example, through occupations, overcrowding, enclosed settings, multi-occupancy households
      • Less access to resources to protect against economic and financial impacts
      • Less access to quality public services

    Actions

    • Commit to a long-term inequalities’ strategy with a multi-faceted approach building on previous Labour success 1997-2010. This should be even more ambitious, to tackle the commercial/ structural determinants of health, and to create healthy communities and places: it should reduce reliance on less effective individual behaviour change strategies, and include the intersectionality of disadvantage
    • Decentralise data and decision-making for COVID19 to better allow resources and control measures to be matched to need
    • Focus on elimination of transmission of COVID19 high risk settings, for example social care and health service facilities, prisons and migrant detention facilities, homes with multiple occupancy, and overcrowded or intergenerational households
    • Redistribute wealth: Maintain social protection measures as long as required and then in the longer term: implement Universal Basic Income and a Green New Deal with an economy based on need not profit. Ensure proportionate universal allocation of resources o Prioritise children: ensure safeguarding/ tackle domestic violence/ prevent unwanted pregnancies/ action to ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes/ push for childhood vaccinations programs to continue/ get children back to school as safely as possible
    • The NHS and social care should be always provided by need and not ability to pay: the state is a protective factor against unequal exposures to health determinants, as a provider, enabler and employer
    • Build and nurture the grassroots movements that have blossomed during the pandemic, and establish community oriented primary care to empower communities to create healthy communities

    Sources

    • Watkins J, Wulaningsih W, Da Zhou C, et al Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis BMJ Open 2017;7:e017722. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017722
    • https://bmjopen.bmj.eom/content/7/11/e017722

    Posted by Brian Fisher on behalf of the Policy Team.

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    The SHA has been publishing its COVID-19 Blogs weekly since the 15th March. A number of themes have cropped up consistently throughout as actual events have occurred.

    Too slow to act

    The slow and dithering response by the government has been one such theme. This has been exposed with embarrassing clarity by media investigative teams which this weekend include the Insight team. Their detailed report on the dither and delay leading up to lockdown showed that when Italy and Spain locked down on the 10th and 13th March respectively each had over a million estimated infections in their countries. In the UK we had looked aghast at the footage from Lombardy and Madrid as their health and care system was visibly overwhelmed but the government failed to heed their strictly enforced lockdown policies in the 2 weeks warning we had. During this time from the 8th March the Johnson administration allowed the Five Nations rugby matches to go ahead in Twickenham and Edinburgh, the Cheltenham races, the Liverpool/Atletico Madrid football match on the 11th March and two Stereophonics pop concerts in Cardiff held on the 14th and 15th March. All this was apparently following the science…..

    France locked down on the 16th March with an estimated 800,000 infections and Germany locked down on the 21st March with only 270,000. The Johnson government had resisted calls to lockdown at the same time as France on the 16th March. They waited until the 23rd March by which time the estimated number of infections in the community had almost doubled to 1.5m. This dither and delay lies at the heart of our comparatively poor outcome with the COVID-19 confirmed deaths of 37,000 (an underestimate of all excess deaths). This list includes at least 300 NHS and care workers.

    Protect the NHS

    Germany’s earlier decision has reaped benefits alongside their border closure, effective test, trace and isolate (TTI) policies, with sufficient testing capacity, and led by regional public health organisations. They also have sufficient ITU/hospital bed capacity without the need to build new Nightingale Hospitals. Our government did not close borders or introduce quarantining on entry, and turned out not to have used February to build our testing capacity either.

    The strategic attention in the UK has been to ‘Protect the NHS’ but not in the same way Care Homes. Because of the shortage of testing capacity we had to stop the community based test, track and isolate (TTI) programme. The NHS has stood up well through the dedication of its staff and demonstrated the superiority of a nationalised health system. However from a public health policy perspective the COBR meetings should have been thinking about the whole population and what populations were at high risk such as those in residential and care homes.

    The data in Wuhan had been published quickly and had shown that it was older people who are most at risk of disease and death. We knew all this, the Chinese data has been replicated in Europe but the Government failed to follow through.

    The Privately owned Social Care sector

    Unlike the NHS hospital sector, the care sector, of residential and nursing homes,  are a patchwork of large ‘private for profit’ owners, smaller privately owned and run homes and the charitable sector. There is a registration system and some quality assurance through the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The fact that we do not have a National Care Service along the lines of the NHS has led to operational problems during the pandemic between commissioners, regulators, owners and the staff who run the homes. As privately run establishments there were varied expectations about procuring PPE for the staff in the early phase of the pandemic response. There was also a lack of clarity about whether satisfactory infection prevention and control procedures were in place and able to deal with COVID-19. How had residential and care homes undertaken risk assessments, working out how to cohort residents with symptoms and manage their care? What about staffing problems, agency staff and policies for symptomatic staff to self isolate? It was important early on to consider in what respect COVID-19 is the same as or different from influenza or a norovirus outbreak,

    It seems that the Secretary of State for Health and his staff have been too slow in aligning Public Health England (PHE), GPs and primary care infection control nurses alongside the homes to provide more expert advice and support on infection prevention and control.  It seems also that some nursing homes took patients discharged from the NHS who were still infected with COVID-19, when on the 19th March the Department of Health announced that 15,000 people should be discharged to free up NHS beds. There was no mandatory testing or period of quarantining before these patients were discharged. In this way hospital based infections were transferred to nursing homes.

    The scarcity of PPE (caused by the Government’s failure to heed the results of Exercise Cygnus) meant that professionals felt nervous about entering homes to assess sick residents and sadly to be able to certify death and certificate the cause of death. Rationing of PPE in this sector has contributed to the risk of infection in care staff, which would cause transmission in the care home. Most homes had to lockdown too, stopping visiting and in some cases having staff move into the home themselves at personal risk and disruption to their lives. It became clear that transmission from the community to care home residents was occurring through staff. This has been very hard on these undervalued and low paid staff, who began to realise that they were transmitting infection between residents or from themselves.

    Some of the stories of care staff’s heroism and dedication to their residents is extraordinary. It is reminiscent of Camus’s book The Plague, which recounts heroism undertaken by ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Tellingly Camus also suggests that the hardest part of a crisis is not working out the right thing to do, but rather having the guts to get on and do it. Many care home managers and staff had to do just that.

    Follow the money

    A recent report looked at HC-One, which is Britain’s largest care home group with 328 homes, 17,000 residents and so far 700 COVID related deaths. The operating profits of the company are of the order of £57m but, through the financial arrangements with off shore related companies, the profits “disappear” in £50m ‘interest payments’. While global interest rates have been at historically low levels HC-One have apparently been paying 9% interest on a Cayman island loan of £11.4m and 15-18% interest on another Cayman company for a £89m loan. Apparently HC-One paid only £1m in tax to the HMRC last year (Private Eye 22nd May) through this transaction with off shore interests off-setting their profit. This is not however inhibiting them from seeking government support at this time. A better future would be to rescue social care by nationalising the social care sector, bring the staff into more secure terms and conditions of service and sort out the property compensation over time through transparent district valuations.

    Test, trace and isolate (TTI)

    At long last the government has signalled that it wishes to reactivate the community based test, trace and isolate programme that it stood down over 10 weeks ago. Of course, once the virus had been allowed to spread widely within communities, the TTI programme would have had to modify their objectives from the outbreak control of the early stages. However they could have continued to build the local surveillance picture within their communities, help PHE to control residential and nursing home outbreaks with their community based contacts and prepare for the next phase of continuing control measures during the recovery phase.

    They seem to have at last realised the potential of local Directors of Public Health (DsPH) who are embedded in local government and who, after all, lead Local Resilience Fora as part of the framework of a national emergency plan. The DsPH have links to the Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) who survived the austerity cuts. EHOs are experienced contact tracers well able to recruit and train new staff locally to do the job. This is in sharp contrast to the inexperienced staff now being recruited and used by the private sector.

    The local public health teams also work closely with PHE and NHS partners and so can fulfil the complex multiagency leadership required in such a public health emergency. Building on these strengths is far better than drawing on private sector consultants such as Deloittes, or companies such as SERCO, Sodexo, Compass or Mitie. All these private sector groups have an interest in hiving off parts of the public sector. In addition, unsurprisingly, they have close ties to the government and Conservative Party. Baroness Harding, who has been brought in to Chair the TTI programme, is a Tory peer married to a Tory MP who was CEO of Talk Talk. She was in charge at the time of the 2015 data breach leading to 4m customers having their bank and account details hacked. No surprises, then, that she is asked to undertake this role as a safe pair of hands in much the same way that Tory peer Lord Deighton has been asked to lead the PPE work.

    Game changers – and what is the game?

    In last week’s Blog we mentioned that Government Ministers seem to be fixated on game changers whether novel tests, treatments, vaccines or digital apps. We mentioned last week that treatments like Chloroquine need proper evaluation to see if they are safe and effective. A report in the Lancet on the 22nd May found that there was no benefit. Indeed the study found that the treatments reduced in-hospital survival and an increase in heart arrhythmias was observed when used for treating COVID-19

    Vaccines need to be researched, as they may well be important in the future but remember that a 2013 review from the Netherlands found that they take – on average – 10.71 years to develop, and had a 6% success rate from start to finish.

    The mobile apps trial in the Isle of Wight seems not to have delivered a reliable platform, and of course the Government has probably ignored the apps working splendidly in South Korea and Singapore. Meanwhile Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Faculty and Amazon stand ready to move in. There are major risks with getting into bed with some of these players including the data mining company Palantir.

    Palantir

    This company was initially funded by the CIA but has secured lucrative public sector contracts in the USA covering predictive policing, migrant surveillance and battlefield software. These IT and data companies have been drawn into the UK COVID-19 ‘data store’. While working alongside NHSX and its digital transformation unit wanting to assess and predict demand there are concerns over data privacy, accountability and the possible impact on the NHS.

    Palantir has been of interest to Dominic Cummings (DC) since 2015, according to the New Statesman, when he reportedly told the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, that he wanted to build the ‘Palantir of politics’. The other company Faculty had close ties too with the Vote leave campaign. Cummings is said to want to remould the state in the image of Silicon Valley.

    Conclusion

    So in the turmoil of the COVID-19 response the government has looked to multiple game changers while ignoring straightforward tried and tested communicable disease control measures. It has succeeded in ‘Protecting the NHS’ (though not against the incursion of the private sector) but allowed the residential and care home sector to be exposed to infection. We welcome the belated return to supporting DsPH and local public health leadership, which has been left out for too long. Let us hope – and demand – that there is also more investment in public health services and not allow Government spokespeople to start to blame organisations such as PHE.

    We worry that they are not being alert to safeguard public services by inviting some dubious partners to the top table. On the contrary they are VERY alert – to the opportunity of inserting private capital (and profit) in the NHS and other public sector organisations. One such company new to many of us is the data mining company Palantir – a company named after an all-seeing crystal ball in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Lurking in the background is of course the Prime Minister’s senior political adviser DC.

    24th May 2020

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

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