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    Following the Lost Decade of Austerity the NHS is undertaking a process of readjustment and reconfiguration to prevent the service falling over. In primary care the most prominent outward signs are “new models of care” and “Digital First”.

    The new models of care vary depending on locations but at their core is an attempt to divert what might be classed as routine and less serious illnesses from general practitioners so that they can concentrate on more serious specialist work. The focus shifts from the individual GP to a multi-disciplinary teams in its broadest, an often disconnected, sense. The GP is not longer the obvious and uncontested access point to the NHS.

    In the first instance patients are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own health and its management rather than “bothering” the NHS. This has always gone on but now there are the additional opportunities and pathways for on-line advice and guidance.

    If that fails then consideration should be give to using alternative non-medical practitioners such as “blue light services if deemed an emergency, specialist nurses, physician’s assistants, pharmacists, self-referral physiotherapy, opticians, health visitors etc. And while use is made of these alternative practitioners by very many, a substantial number of patients who feel unwell vote with their feet and take themselves to an already over-pressed Accident & Emergency service.

    For those who cross this initial threshold, access to general practice is increasingly via a triage / “Digital First” portal. From here, it is claimed, patients access the advice, support and treatment they need using telephone, digital and online tools. In practical terms, this means patients should use these tools to access all primary care services, such as receiving advice, getting repeat prescriptions, booking and cancelling appointments, having a consultation with a healthcare professional, receiving a referral and obtaining a prescription. And any patient who wishes to consult their GP must digitally provide an initial description of their problem to a third party and will then wait for electronic triage via a phone or video call. It is only at this stage a face to face consultation may be offered if felt appropriate.

    Much of this has commendable elements if it was part of a strategy where primary care was evolving to meet to meet ever growing and complex needs. Many patients will find the use of “digital consultations” both convenient, time saving and satisfactory. Indeed there is some evidence to suggest that patients may be more satisfied with a digital consultation than the clinician.

    However overwhelmingly that transition to “digital first” is being hastily introduced as a dominant new paradigm of care and as a pressure valve for a service that is already in serious danger of imploding. Most of these changes have been introduced with bullish optimism and little consultation or debate with either patients or the professions involved. The speed of this uncritical implementation has been greatly accelerated by the Covid pandemic – for understandable reasons.

    An increasingly obvious outcome of these changes is a public perception that general practice is no longer a accessible first port of call for either new problems or the management of chronic long-term conditions. And fanned by some Tory politicians and elements in the right-wing press, general practitioners are having to shoulder the blame for this state of affairs in an increasingly hostile atmosphere.

    Some GPs have been dragged into a confrontation with patients on these issues in a way that seeks to minimise legitimate public concern. Such a response may be understandable but it is ill conceived. Both they and their patients must seek to make common cause to address the real underlying problems they jointly face.

    At the core of this problem has been the failure to expand medical capacity in primary care. In contrast to many other primary care professionals or their hospital colleagues, the numbers of GPs in general practice has been static for decades. This failure to increase numbers, linked to the changes in contract preferences of new GPs, has meant that more and more service is being expected from fewer and fewer practitioners. This is not sustainable.

    Jeremy Hunt MP, a former Tory Health Minister ( 2012-1218), has stated that his efforts to increase GP numbers failed, not because extra GPs were not trained but because more experienced GPs were retiring or going part time faster than new trainees arrived. This is a crucial lesson for the current Health Minister Sajid Javid MP.

    Javid’s recent proposals to provide an additional £250m to improve GP access provides some long over-due remediation for years of under-investment. But very worrying there are a range of conditions attached to the payments which most GPs will see as toxic strings. This could drive even more GPs out of the service when the need for them is greater than ever.

    Collectively all of these changes pose a risk to the essence of British general practice. As a gateway to the NHS, general practice had a key role in sorting undifferentiated presenting problems and to make decisions accordingly. GPs become a crucial signpost and the patient’s advocate in an every complex care service.

    The consultation has also been where opportunist preventive and anticipatory care took beyond the presenting problem. And this was the basis for the building of a continuing personal relationship between the patient and their practitioner. Time was of the essence in building this relationship – but time is one thing the present system does not have.

    Instead much of primary care provision is being fragmented into disconnected episodic incidents where continuity and personalisation is sacrificed for a transactional, call centre style of medicine. In this model patients move through the system as quickly as possible with a focus of narrowing  care down to just “today’s problem”.

    This approach will inevitably undermine the personal, generalist and holistic nature of general practice. The initial contact with primary care becomes the lottery of the taxi rank. Remote access will deprive the clinician of many important non-verbal cues and time pressures will mitigate against pursuing broader concerns that are not immediately relevant — though they may have longer term implications for patients’ health and well-being. Instead of being a holistic generalist , the GP is at risk of becoming a “specaloid in episodic care”.

    As the rivets pop throughout health and social care, rising such issues of quality may seem to be an indulgence. To some with immediate and pressing medical problems these concerns could look like worrying about the icing on a cake when there is no bread on the table. But these issues are fundamental way that British general underpins the whole of NHS. If we discard them, particularly in a trivial or cavalier way, the very fabric of the service will be placed at risk.

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    by Esther Giles, Former Director of Finance (Specialised Services) South Region of England, SHA member”

    This article tracks the extent and nature of marketisation and privatisation in the NHS up to the current proposed move to Integrated care systems (ICSs) and argues that the current ICS proposals are the logical conclusion of the marketisation reforms implemented progressively from Thatcher onwards.

     

    Some of David Cameron’s many famous last words were his pre-election pledge in 2010 that there would be no more “top-down reorganisations” of the NHS[1]. He then presided, in 2012, over the most chaotic and unlegislated top-down upheaval of the NHS that can be imagined or remembered. The resulting fragmentation and damage were never resolved, and so the NHS goes limping in the logical conclusion of the relentless drive away from a universal national service, and towards the current proposals for Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) modelled on the US Kaiser Permanente system of Accountable Care Systems.

    The 2012 Health and Social Care Act and Marketisation

    The internal market was given a fundamental boost by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Under this Act, all NHS services above a stated value had to be put out to competitive tender, turning the provision of healthcare into an economic activity and, as such, subject to EU competition Law.

    Thus, private providers such as Capita and Virgin have been seen bidding to provide NHS services, mainly in community services. Sometimes they win and sometimes they don’t. And if they don’t, they look for opportunity to sue. In the South West, we saw Virgin win contracts for Community Services in Devon[2] and Bath and North-East Somerset (BANES). Richard Branson’s Virgin HealthCare won £1bn worth of contracts in 2016/17. It won these services from the NHS and from non-profit making services such as community interest companies.

    NHS acute hospitals have all stayed within the NHS so far, except for a short flirtation between Hinchingbrooke Hospital and the Circle Group, which ended in disaster, with the provider being put into “special measures” in 2015. The picture is very different for mental health care, where the private sector has had continued domination of parts of the market, in 2012/13, 22% (£1.7bn) of NHS mental health spend was with the independent sector, compared with 4% (£1.8bn) of acute spend. Providers include St. Andrew’s Healthcare, Partnerships in Care, and the Priory Group. For secure MH services, they are all building ‘private’ because the NHS cannot afford the capital funding to do so, Typically, these independent sectors beds cost the NHS 20% more than NHS beds[3].

    There is no evidence that the Internal Market has been any sort of success. No evidence that competition has improved outcomes in any but a few limited examples where causality is neither clear nor proven. The costs of the internal market are huge. Administrative costs in the NHS were estimated at 14% in 2005 compared with 5% before the 1980s; costs of the internal market alone are estimated in the range of £5bn per annum.  To quote Professor Paton in his 2015 study:

    “The ‘market’ in the NHS is a major source of waste. Creating and maintaining markets has incurred huge direct costs and significant ‘opportunity costs’ – money which could have spent upon patient care and clinical redesign.”

    The Private Finance Initiative

    The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was introduced by John Major’s Government from 1992 and was embraced by the subsequent Blair government as a means of removing spending from Government balance sheets and thus reducing public spending in the short term. Most authorities would accept that the PFI has failed, and at material cost to the taxpayer.

    The promulgation of the Neoliberal Ethos in the NHS

    Progressive neoliberal reforms have reinforced the ideology of the market. All have fragmented the provision of healthcare and siphoned public money off into private sector balance sheets, shareholder dividends and profit margins. At the same time, pressures on NHS budgets require NHS management to reduce costs. It seems that the NHS has been presented with an imperative to cut costs and handed privatisation as an alleged means to this end.

    The NHS is one of the most efficient and trusted healthcare systems in the World. One of the reasons for its efficacy and efficiency is that people are given care according to their needs and irrespective of their means. This ethos belongs to its workers as well as to the organisation; for many people who work for the NHS, it is a vocation, and they care deeply about what they do. They have the intrinsic motivation that drew me to a career in the NHS. But, over the past thirty-five years, this ethos has been progressively undermined by the neoliberal ideology that delivery and innovation must be driven by competition and the profit motive, and that input costs must be minimised. This ideology appears to have been accepted, without challenge, by every government since and by the top management of the NHS, despite many public campaigns against privatisation. The consequence of this, combined with a political austerity consensus – that the deficit must and will be reduced by cutting public spending and selling off public assets, means that cost-cutting is accepted as part of the “solution” for the NHS. In a ‘business’ where more than 70% of costs are staff related, the next leap of logic is that staff costs must be cut.[4] This is interpreted and delivered in a number of ways, all of which serve to undermine the quality and energy of the NHS workforce and which include pay freezes, dilution of skill mix, reducing “management costs “, and the outsourcing and privatisation of individual components of the NHS.

    Many people- and not just socialists- have been dismayed over the years at the continuing and relentless reorganisation, marketisation, privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS. The market, with its endless and costly hand-offs between one commercial entity and another, cripples the best efforts of professional staff and those that support them.  Not only are these hand-offs costly to procure, but they also require constant and detailed policing. Furthermore, continuous reorganisation and market testing destroy morale and organisational memory. All these results of the market take focus away from patient care. I believe that the NHS works best with a collaborative rather than a competitive ethos. Where decisions about care are driven by the needs of the patient, not by the scope for profit. Where quality is a prerogative always, not just when it helps to win a contract. Where the entire NHS budget is used to provide and support patient care.

    NHS workers bear the brunt of the rhetoric and dogma at the heart of current policy, being presented as a cost rather than a benefit, a “burden” on the state, the costs of whom must be minimised. They must” tighten their belts” like everyone else – apart from the wealthiest. Now, the biggest crisis in the NHS is the lack of qualified staff, exacerbated by the removal by the current government of bursaries for nurses and by its disastrous instrumentalisation of migrants’ rights in Brexit negotiations. ​ It is a crisis brought on by what appears to be deliberate incompetence by the Government, mitigated only by the continued introduction of qualified staff from third world countries.

    The Extent of Privatisation

    A simple measure is the proportion of NHS spend on private sector providers as reported in the Department of Health Accounts. In 2004, this was 2.8%. and in 2018/19, it was reported as 7.3%. with privatisation accelerating after the Health and Social Care Act 2012. However, these figures mask the extent of private provision within NHS providers, where many ancillary services- such as cleaning, catering, portering and pharmacy- have been outsourced since Thatcher’s 1983 initiative. There is also spending on private providers of primary care (including GPs) to take into account. After adding these into the figures, the total spend of NHS England in the private sector in 2018/19  is estimated by David Rowland, Director of the Centre for Public Health and Interest as £29bn, or 26% of NHS England spending. So, there’s little doubt that privatisation is increasing in the NHS, and that “market reforms”, compulsory tendering under EU Law (until now), and a lack of ready cash are important drivers of this. It is of huge credit to NHS workers that, despite these onslaughts and years of pay freezes and cuts to services, they soldier on.

    Consultation on Integrated Care Systems

    The fragmentation forced by the disastrous 2012 Health and Social Care Act exposed the gross dysfunction of the internal market. It set commissioners against providers in an endless spiral of tactics to gain at the expense of the other, at huge administrative and organisational cost. The concept of the ICS could, in theory, see a return to the local system approach adopted in District Health Authorities (DHAs) prior to NHS marketisation, with funding being based on populations adjusted for cross boundary flows, with no internal market, and with local systems agreeing plans and setting budgets and quality standards for local services. This would provide the opportunity to remove layers of bureaucracy and unnecessary accounting and contracting and enable savings to move out to fund the front line. But it is clear from the consultation document that this is not the intended approach. And neither was this ever intended.

     

    The very core purpose of ICSs is to drive down care based on demanding cost savings targets imposed by the Government, in a service that is already one of the most efficient in the world. The ethos, even the language[5]  is that of the American accountable care system, where being seen to be cutting costs (and creating an industry out of that) is a key organisational driver and measure of success. And it is crystal clear that the policy march started by Thatcher and continued through Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May was to implement the Kaiser Permanente model first introduced by Alain Enthoven, and whose thinking was adopted by the Central Policy Think Tank when the internal market was first introduced into the NHS

    Specific Areas to address in the consultation document (and for Labour to develop) are suggested as follows:

    • the document retains the language and structure of the internal market in that it refers to provider organisations and provider collaboratives, and commissioners. The inference is that fragmentation can be addressed by provider collaboration (and, presumably, ultimately merger). Thus, it intends to retain the most pernicious and inefficient components of the internal market. A socialist radical approach (and which is Labour Policy) would be to remove the internal market altogether, and focus on quality assured service provision, supported by rigorous benchmarking of quality and cost and an overarching strategic and operational planning function. Undoubtedly there are extraordinarily strong vested interests in retaining the status quo, with “providers” having developed as big businesses in their own right.
    • The consultation document refers to “digital and data” to drive system working, and yet there appears to be no single NHS solution for this. Instead, there is a “Framework” calling on a wide range of “providers”, and the suggestion that there should be “shared contracts and platforms to increase resiliency”. An alternative to this would be an NHS-wide and provided digital data and information service.
    • Each System/Geographic area will have its own pot of money covering the whole of local spending on healthcare. Transactional costs are intended to be reduced through the “blended payment” model. An alternative approach would be to remove tariffs and set budgets based on the costs of the services required by the system. These costs could be budgeted on a variable basis using agreed parameters (such as variable capacity requirements).
    • Specialised Services need to be planned on a larger geographical footprint than other general services. This will require collaboration and planning between ICSs so that the needs of each ICS population are met in an equitable and efficient way. The funding for the relevant services should sit with the local ICS (managed on the same principles as RAWP with DHAs) so that they have the funding required to budget for all their locally provided services. Whatever mechanism is put in place should minimise transaction costs.

    [1] In a speech at the Royal College of Pathologists on 2 November 2009, Cameron said: “With the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS.”

    [2] https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/health/virgin-care-set-lose-multi-2038196

    [3] Based on tariff data collected internally by NHS England in 2018/19

    [4] “‘Since it takes time to train skilled staff, (for example, up to 13 years to consult), the risk is that the NHS will lock itself into outdated models of delivery unless we radically alter the way in which we plan and train our workforce. HEE will therefore work with its statutory partners to commission and expand new health and care roles, ensuring we have a more flexible workforce […]” [5 Year Forward View, page 30.]

    [5] Along with the structures, the purpose, and the key role of US healthcare corporations in importing it to the UK, even phrases like “Right care, right time, right place” to advertise the NHS Long Term Plan’s service closures programmes, are lifted straight from the language of accountable care in the US. It is not a coincidence that the Healthcare Financial Management Association (the professional organisation representing finance professionals in the NHS) has, for many years, operated an exchange programme with the US, and with many conferences featuring US healthcare models. The HFMA offers courses based on the US model.

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    This is SHA’s response to NHSE’s consultation on putting ICSs on a statutory footing. It is a curation of the generous and thoughtful comments of many members. Please forward to as many of your groups and networks as possible.

     THE SOCIALIST HEALTH ASSOCIATION’S RESPONSE TO “INTEGRATING CARE –

    Next steps to building strong and effective integrated care systems across England”

    WHAT SHA WANTS TO SEE

    A cooperative and democratic health and care system, fully funded through general taxation, free at the point of use, that eliminates the privatisation of clinical services.

     SHA cannot support these proposals.

    RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS

    Q. Do you agree that giving ICSs a statutory footing from 2022, alongside other legislative proposals, provides the right foundation for the NHS over the next decade?
    SHA does not agree. Our many reasons are explained below.

    Q. Do you agree that option 2 offers a model that provides greater incentive for collaboration alongside clarity of accountability across systems, to Parliament and most importantly, to patients?
    SHA does not have a view on this.

    Q. Do you agree that, other than mandatory participation of NHS bodies and Local Authorities, membership should be sufficiently permissive to allow systems to shape their own governance arrangements to best suit their populations needs?
    There need to be national standards, locally delivered, matched to the needs of an area. Please see SHA’s thinking on NHS democracy.

    Q.Do you agree, subject to appropriate safeguards and where appropriate, that services currently commissioned by NHSE should be either transferred or delegated to ICS bodies?

    NHSE, if it continues to exist, should plan for those requirements that are best planned at national level. These could include rare diseases and specialist services.

     SHA’s REASONS FOR REJECTING THE PROPOSALS.

    Based around place

    SHA supports the idea of services based on an area, reflecting the needs of that place. However, this document leaves place ill-defined.

    Relationships with Local Authorities

    There is poor legislative alignment of responsibilities of Local Authorities (LAs) and ICSs.  This is an issue particularly with reference to Public Contract Regulations 2015, which will still apply to Local Authorities and could increase the regulatory burden on local government, create barriers to joint planning arrangements, or result in inappropriate planning via an NHS channel as discussed elsewhere.[i]

    Interactions with local government are alluded to but only vaguely described.  For example, the document states ‘[the proposals] will in many areas provide an opportunity to align decision-making with local government’ [our emphasis]. This is very weak. How will ICS’s that do not align geographically with local authorities function in this respect?  There is a clear risk that such multi-authority ICSs will drive a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach across diverse communities and geographies in direct opposition to the stated aims of ‘decisions taken closer to the communities’ [para 1.9].

    Overall, it looks as though this is not a collaboration of equals. An ICS as described would be led by the NHS and the LA would be very much a secondary partner. The SHA would like to see a bigger and more equitable role for LAs.

    Devolution

    The statements on devolution such as at 1.11 can be applauded but the reality we know is that since 2011 the NHS has become more centralised. There needs to be more concrete proposals on how this devolution will occur. The mandatory nature of the proposals is a concern and there should be more local discretion within National Care Frameworks and oversight.

    Governance

    Clauses 1.12 and 1.15 are good clear summaries of what the ICS should do and provide. However, 1.16 on page 7 states that primary care, community health and mental health services, social care and support, community diagnostics, urgent and emergency care will be working together with other public or voluntary services Including those providing skills training, assistance into employment, and housing. But no consistent mechanism, structure, governance, regulatory, or accountability framework is defined for this.

    Strategic commissioning/planning (P2, third bullet point) requires the resources of a CCG and of a CSU, but the proposal appears to leave the CSU as a separate organisation (see P24, 2.68) outside of the ICS. No explanation is given for why this is better. Our view is that the CSUs were created outside of the NHS to provide a first landing place in the UK for US insurers who failed to take up the challenge. The most cost-effective route to back office services and business intelligence would be to bring them back into the NHS as shared services operations.

    These clauses do nothing to strengthen the requirement for probity in contracting and appointment procedures made scandalously apparent through court actions presently being pursued in the wake of inappropriate commissioning during Covid.

    There are poorly delineated internal and external accountability processes. As others have noted[ii], [iii] this is a consequence of a lack of precision regarding the function, roles and relationships of ICS. These issues should be clarified.

    There is insufficient detail regarding the openness and transparency of appointments, decision-making and data sharing by ICS and the role of independent sector (IS) organisations in ICSs. While we note that the Government considered ‘it likely that statutory organisations will hold the ICP Contracts’. [iv] Our understanding is that ‘accredited’ companies can be brought in to draw up policies and make service decisions within ICSs. These services could include:

      • Enterprise-wide Electronic Patient Records Systems – for Acute & Community and for Mental Health Hospitals
      • Local health and care record strategy and implementation support and infrastructure
      • ICT infrastructure support and strategic ICT services
      • Informatics, analytics, digital tools to support system planning, assurance and evaluation
      • Informatics, analytics, digital tools to support care coordination, risk stratification and decision support
      • Transformation and change support
      • Patient empowerment and activation
      • Demand management and capacity planning support
      • System assurance support
      • Medicines optimisation

    The role of independent sector organizations in this context must be more clearly defined and regulated, and subject to governance appropriate to a public body. Where possible the NHS should provide such services and/or be empowered to provide any such expertise. We do not agree with private companies being brought in as decision makers. They are bound by law to maximise shareholder profit, not to provide a public service.

    In addition, the document does not address the potential difficulties arising from the requirement on ICS organisations to comply with various competition rules, such as not sharing commercial sensitive information or fixing prices.  For multi-site ICS providers, this presents a system risk in terms of having to share patient and staff data or information with other organisations.  In general, insufficient attention is given to issues around sharing personal health information by ICSs.

    Guidance should be also clearer on the overriding importance of transparency in ICSs decision making. Efforts should be made to limit the use of ‘commercially sensitivity’ as a spurious justification for subverting transparency.

    There is insufficient consideration of potential conflicts of interest within the proposed ICS (e.g. between providers and commissioners, or between public, voluntary, and commercial partners) and how these can be prevented or mitigated. Notably it has been suggested that providers will be able to influence allocations via the ICS partnership board, and there is a credible concern that ‘bigger players’ will skew funding decisions.[v]

    Governance and PCNs

    1.17 mentions PCNs but the regulatory framework through OfSted for children’s services, CQC, NHSE/I, is currently not fit for purpose because it is overlapping and contradictory. There is no governance framework at the moment for PCN collaborations with community and mental health Trusts, and accountability is difficult to pin down.

    Data

    The paper promises to invest in the infrastructure needed to deliver on the transformation plan. This will include shared contracts and platforms to increase resiliency, digitise operational services and create efficiencies, from shared data centres to common EPRs.

    Digital is essential to the current and future NHS. SHA warns against the vaunted flexibility of the transformation plan allowing personal data to be misused by commercial interests even more than it is now. SHA also warns against services rushing into digital solutions without adequate evaluation and without enabling non-digital solutions for those who still require them.

    Health Creation is not mentioned in this paper.

    SHA supports the concept of Health Creation. That is the process of bringing people in contact with each other, building confidence and thereby enabling communities to take more control of their area and their health and care.

    An option we would like to see would be mandating 1% of a PCN’s budget to community strengthening – population Health Creation

    Population health, but almost no mention of Health Inequalities

    There needs to be a clear vision of the metrics of “population health” especially if this it to be the main outcome or “productivity” upon which the NHS and its partners is being judged. The consultation  paper seems silent both  on what these metrics are and on what role the NHS is to play in delivering that outcome. For example, is the metric of population health a pre-determined blend of longevity and the quality of life delivered?  To what extent is managing the ” social determinants of health” to be allied with the NHS as opposed to being the task of wider government and indeed others?

    “Integrating Care” does not really explain “population health”, but the HSSF is more explicit:

    “Population Health Management is an approach aimed at improving the health of an

    entire population and improves population health by data driven planning and delivery

    of care to achieve maximum impact for the population.”

    Any concept of patients and staff planning and evaluating the service, which will involve decisions on what to prioritise, is absent. Instead, the HSSF accredits corporations to support an ICS in taking such decisions. We should propose a 5th principle on the necessary need to involve patients in these arrangements. There is good evidence that such effective engagements lead to better services.

    In practice the emphasis on the role of Foundation Trusts and clinician-leadership is likely to prioritise clinical service provision, whether primary or secondary care, with limited focus on prevention and population health. This is an inherent structural weakness of the ICS model as currently specified.

    SHA cannot support ICSs without a far clearer commitment to tackling health inequalities through tackling the wider determinants of health and working closely with LAs, housing and other key partners. The document states that greater co-ordination between providers at scale can support… ‘reduction of health inequalities, with fair and equal access across sites;’. It is not clear how this follows as no mechanism linking these two is articulated. Vague commitments as outlined in the document are inadequate to address this persistent and worsening problem. Specific goals and mechanisms for reducing health inequalities should be explicit in the proposals.

    Single pot for finance and the legislative proposals
    On the face of it, a single pot (2.40), linked with reducing the importance of competition seems like a significant step forward and a more equitable and efficient approach to funding. SHA is supportive to the extent that these proposals reduce the contract negotiation and monitoring which is so wasteful of time and effort in the NHS, with savings in overhead costs and improvement in services designed by providers aiming at better outcomes, not by commissioners principally aiming to reduce expenditure. There must be appropriate risk sharing because of the danger that an individual ICS could be destabilised by unforeseen and one off events.

    It is not clear how this single pot will be spent, assuring fairness, value for money, quality.

    At 2.47 there is a limited mention of capital. There is no mention in the document of NHS Property Services or Community Health Partnerships or the NHS Estate. This is a major weaknesses in the proposals.

    Taken together with “Integrating Care”, this makes clear that fixed payment to secondary care providers must conform to the ICS system plan. Initially , the fixed payment would be based on the current block payments under the heading of COVID-19, which make up the majority of current CCG budgets. Fixed payments will be determined locally. While national tariffs will no longer apply in general, they may be retained for diagnostic imaging, a highly privatised sector. Some elective activity, again involving the private sector, will also be exempt from blended payment. In other words, private sector suppliers of clinical services will be protected from any local cost reductions.

    However, we also see impossible control totals which will make investing and innovation extremely difficult and constrain ICSs for the future. In effect, this continues austerity. We want to see comprehensive funding for an expanding, publicly funded NHS.

    Allusion is frequently made to anticipated cost savings and efficiency improvements [paras 1.8, 1.9, 2.22, 2.46, 2.51] but it is unlikely that these will be realised in the short-term and short-term costs may even increase.[vi] Evidence from similar interventions in the UK and other countries provides at best equivocal evidence for longer-term improvements in efficiency.[vii], [viii], [ix] Quality rather than cost-savings should be the primary driver of any reorganisation.

    There are other concerns SHA has in respect of the apparent relaxation of privatisation.

    All clinical services should be retained in house and fall under a re-instated duty of the Secretary of State for Health to PROVIDE such services.

    Providers will still be able to use the private sector. There are contracts now through NHS Shared Business Services which appear to require no formal tendering.

    Beware of cementing existing privatisation. This can happen through sub-contracting as above and by current private sector providers expanding through what ever contracting process there may be. The most likely beneficiary is likely to be the privatisation of mental health services through the Priory and similar organisations.

    Backroom functions will continue to be privatised.

    “Integrating Care” never mentions “private”, “independent sector” or “third sector”. The document

    uses a new codeword, namely ‘others’. This suggests that NHSE fully expects the private sector to play a most important part in the future, including for clinical services. (NHSE/I “Integrating Care” KONP)

    Covid has shown us, if we needed showing, that a truly nationalised health and social care service is needed and vital, with the advantages of national estate agility, workforce planning, driven by a national public health strategy to invest in the social care infrastructure of the national economy, whilst local partnerships freed of wasteful market practices are responsible for local delivery and can be locally accountable.

    Staff

    Whilst the fixed payment would be determined locally, neither “Integrating Care” nor

    “Developing the payment system” refer to national agreements on wages, terms and conditions.

    The SHA is very concerned that, despite papers on responding to the staffing problems, we have not seen any recommendations for comprehensive staffing programmes that support pay justice and adequately protect workers.

    Despite discussion emphasizing the key role of the workforce in effecting these changes, mechanisms to allow direct representation of workers or their trade union spokespersons on ICS are entirely lacking in the proposals.

    Any proposal for ICSs should make explicit commitments to ensuring that all workers receive the National Living Wage (and preferably the real Living Wage) whether they are employed by the NHS or by subcontractors to ICSs. ICSs should commit to abolition of zero hours contracts in all its activities.

    Democracy

    Despite frequent criticism of ICSs as being distant from communities and undemocratic (as indeed is the NHS as a whole), this paper gives little confidence for any significant democratic change. Healthwatch is not sufficient, too health focused and with too few teeth.

    SHA would like to see financial transparency, accountable to communities. SHA would like to see ICSs exploring the opportunities for participatory democracy – such as community development, citizens forums, coproduction networks.

    “Current ICS arrangements are outrageously disconnected not only from real democratic structures but also from real centres of identity and community. They are administratively defined and they are under the control of officers who are not accountable to local people.

    What I would like to see is NHS Sheffield accountable to the local people of Sheffield (and likewise for other communities). It is totally inappropriate to leave accountability and governance of supposedly statutory bodies open to development and interpretation by officers of the ICS. All the assets of the ICS should be treated as public assets, especially all the capital assets and these must all be put under local (not national) control.” Duffy, SHA member

    With many thanks to all those SHA members who generously contributed to this response.

    We have also drawn on documents from Keep Our NHS Public and the Local Government Association.

    [i] Integrating care: Next steps to building strong and effective integrated care systems. Local Government Association (https://www.local.gov.uk/parliament/briefings-and-responses/integrating-care-next-steps-building-strong-and-effective accessed 23/12/20)

    [ii] Delivering together: Developing effective accountability in integrated care systems. NHS Confederation/Solace (https://www.nhsconfed.org/-/media/Confederation/Files/Publications/Delivering-together-FNL.pdf accessed 22/12/20)

    [iii] Integrated care systems (ICSs) (https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/integration/integrated-care-systems-icss accessed 24/23/20)

    [iv] Government response to the recommendations of the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into ‘Integrated care: organisations, partnerships and systems’ Cm 9695 (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiJw-_Dt-ztAhWkoVwKHXuRAkIQFjAAegQIARAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gov.uk%2Fgovernment%2Fpublications%2Fgovernment-response-to-the-health-and-social-care-committees-report-on-integrated-care&usg=AOvVaw2k1pzGscqk30BYEL_QbNJt accessed 26/12/20)

    [v] On the day briefing: Integrating care, NHS England and NHS Improvement. NHSProviders 26 November 2020 (https://nhsproviders.org/media/690689/201126-nhs-providers-on-the-day-briefing-integrating-care.pdf accessed 26/12/20)

    [vi] House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee Integrated care: organisations, partnerships and systems Seventh Report of Session 2017–19 (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjb-oSstuztAhUNYsAKHabDDoYQFjAAegQIBBAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fpublications.parliament.uk%2Fpa%2Fcm201719%2Fcmselect%2Fcmhealth%2F650%2F650.pdf%3Futm_source%3DThe%2520King%2527s%2520Fund%2520newsletters%2520%2528main%2520account%2529%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3D9379676_NEWSL_ICB%25202018-06-13%26dm_i%3D21A8%2C5L1EK%2COYZ6AS%2CM5X8X%2C1&usg=AOvVaw0-ZVcp3j_Sh049yv9kdNTA accessed 26/12/20)

    [vii] John Lister, How Keep Our NHS Public should be campaigning on Integrated Care Systems. November 24 2020. (https://keepournhspublic.com/resources/how-keep-our-nhs-public-should-be-campaigning-on-integrated-care-systems/ accessed 26/12 20)

    [viii] Government response to the recommendations of the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into ‘Integrated care: organisations, partnerships and systems’ Cm 9695 (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiJw-_Dt-ztAhWkoVwKHXuRAkIQFjAAegQIARAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gov.uk%2Fgovernment%2Fpublications%2Fgovernment-response-to-the-health-and-social-care-committees-report-on-integrated-care&usg=AOvVaw2k1pzGscqk30BYEL_QbNJt accessed 26/12/20)

    [ix] Scobie S (2019) ‘Are patients benefitting from better integrated care?’, QualityWatch blog. Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation. (www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/news-item/are-patients-benefiting-from-better-integrated-care accessed 26/12/20)

    SOCIALIST HEALTH ASSOCIATION RESPONSE TO ICS CONSULTATION 7 1 21

    2 Comments

    Joint authors:

    Colin Slasberg Consultant in Social Care

    Peter Beresford visiting Professor University of East Anglia

    In September, while the Health and Care Select Committee Inquiry into funding for social care was still sitting, we wrote an article highlighting the case of Anna Severight. The Committee played a clip of Anna’s testimony to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State. Anna is a 34 year old disabled woman who receives enough support to be ‘fed and watered’, but not enough to have a life ‘worth living’. Hancock noted this was a sad example of people not getting ‘all they would like’.  He thus failed to recognise that having a life worth living is something very much more than what people ‘would like’, a mere wish or want. Characterised by dignity, control over life and services and being able to engage in society a life worth living is a need recognised in the law by the Care Act.

    We had prepared a submission to the Inquiry to give them advanced notice of the issues and how councils, encouraged by central government, are ignoring what the Care Act requires. We wondered in September whether the Committee when it finally reported would correct Hancock and identify what needs to happen to address Anna’s plight.

    What the Select Committee says

    We now know. The Committee’s final report, encouragingly, opened with Anna’s story as powerful testimony of the system’s failings. It then proceeded to do nothing about it. The Committee concluded the system needed £7BN more to meet demand from demography and to pay care workers what they should; £5BN more to make personal care free; £3.1BN to introduce a care cap.

    Although not much more than government has recently found to fund its failing track and trace system, such increases would represent more than doubling of current spending on social care. Even so, the Committee’s proposals would not give a single penny toward giving Anna the support she needs. Indeed, if a care cap and free personal care are introduced and not fully funded – which on past precedent is a high risk – Anna’s chances of a normal life would reduce even further. The increased gap in funding would be made up through yet further restriction of eligibility.

    Here is the nub of the issue. The eligibility regime has long allowed councils to adjust ‘need’ to their budget. When NHS clinicians make their diagnoses, the essential ingredients are the patient and the clinician’s knowledge and judgement. If not always working perfectly, the founding NHS principle that need must precede resources provides the policy context. As need outstrips resources, so waiting times go up. Not so in social care, where the equivalent of the clinical diagnosis is assessment of need. Whilst social workers gather information about the person, it is managers with responsibility for budgets, often working through ‘panels’, who make the decision as to whether a need is ‘eligible’ and therefore will be met. This enables councils to control the flow of demand to ensure spend matches budget. Councils, unlike the NHS, are permitted neither overspends nor to leave any need unmet.

    In an almost absurd denial of the empirical evidence of this reality councils hotly deny it. They claim the eligibility decisions are the social worker’s, are entirely based on need and resources never come into it. That they are able to get away with this is due in no small part to political leaders having no interest in challenging them. It is a system that keeps the lid very firmly on demand, whilst silencing the voices of the older and disabled people within. It’s a system that suits those political leaders indifferent or even hostile to the needs of older and disabled people who want to keep the pot as small as they possibly can get away with. It also suits more liberal or more generous leaders who want to make the pot a little larger, but who don’t want the true limitations of their generosity exposed. They are able to secure virtue from comparison against the worst of their kind, not comparison with the best of what older and disabled people hope for.

    Can there be a different future?

    One view that is strongly pressed is for Independent Living to become a legal right. Independent Living as defined by the United Nations is indistinguishable from the Care Act’s vision of control, dignity and participation. At the moment, making independent living a legal right can seem a utopian ideal that no-one with the interests of older and disabled people at heart will disagree with. However, under our present politics, its prospects of happening in any foreseeable future are remote. The huge variability in individual costs will mean the service would have to be delivered on an ‘open cheque’ basis if councils will be under a legal obligation to meet every need for independent living. Given that service users’ quality of life doesn’t even make it into the top political priorities if the cross Party Select Committee report is anything to go by, the prospect of Parliament giving councils blank cheques to make independent living happen is very distant.

    We will continue to make the case for an end to the eligibility regime as the source of much that is rotten in the social care system. But we do so having accepted that spending will still have to be controlled given it must take place within budgets which have been democratically determined.

    Spending should be controlled in a very different way. Councils should assess and cost all needs as the Care Act requires – in effect all needs for independent living. Councils must be honest about which needs they can and which needs they cannot afford to meet. Political leaders should know how much funding they need to make available so that Anna and the many thousands like her have the life right for them. Political leaders should no longer be allowed hide behind their officers disappearing needs that the budget they have given officers is insufficient to meet. Political leaders must be held publicly and transparently accountable for the quality of the lives of their older and disabled citizens.

    2 Comments

    Issue: 111 – 10 November 2020

    Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine

    This could be the only good Covid-19 news we have had in a very long time. Regulators have still not approved the vaccine though, but allegedly this will happen soon. According to DHSC guidelines issued in September 2020, the top priority list for those being given the vaccine is older adults resident in care homes and care home workers, 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers, 75+, 70+. 65+, and high risk adults under 65.

    The Government has an agreement with Pfizer to buy 30 million doses, with 10 million due by the end of December 2020.

    Very Steep Rise in Secondary School Covid-19 Infection Rates

    The National Education Union (NEU) has analysed Covid-19 infection data published by the Office for National Statistics. The NEU states that Infection rates in Secondary schools in England are an astonishing 50 times higher since September 2020. In Primary schools the rise is nine times. The NEU maintains these figures clearly show that schools are engines for virus transmission.

    The NEU recommends schools staying open only for children of key workers and for vulnerable children during Covid-19 lockdown. The NEU membership is 450,000 teachers, lecturers, educational support staff and leaders. More at:

    https://neu.org.uk

    As a postscript to this, when I researched infection rates across many Ealing neighbourhoods on 9 November 2020 the three highest rates were in neighbourhoods containing secondary schools – Northolt South (349 cases/100,000), Southall Green (310.1) and Cuckoo Park, Hanwell (280.9).

    Hospitals are Breeding Grounds for Covid-19 Infections

    On 9 November 2020, ‘ITV’ reported that of the 12,903 new Covid-19 cases between 18 September and 18 October 2020. 1,772 were acquired in hospital. Of the 700 new hospital cases in south east England, 23% were contracted in hospital.

    It seems for all kinds of reasons hospital staff and patients are not being tested on a regular basis. By 20 November 2020, allegedly, all patient-facing NHS staff will be asked to test themselves at home twice a week with results available before coming to work.

    Covid-19 Lockdowns Impacting the Mental and Emotional Health of Young People

    The NSPCC AND Childline are both reporting increasing telephone and counselling sessions. Young people are increasingly presenting with feelings of isolation, anxiety, insecurity and eating and body image disorders. More at:

    www.nspcc.org.uk

    www.childline.org.uk

    Is Covid-19 Population Testing (Mass-Screening of Asymptomatic People) in Liverpool Simply the Wrong Thing to Do?

    80 test centres and 2,000 troops involved. This sounds expensive. But will it ‘work’? Professor Allyson Pollock, a recognised Public Health expert, has her doubts. On 3 November 2020, as part of the Government’s £100 billion ‘Operation Moonshot’, population-wide Covid-19 testing of asymptomatic people in Liverpool was announced. Eight test centres opened on 6 November 2020.

    Professor Pollock has pointed out that this initiative is at odds with the SAGE advice of 10 September 2020 and with the current World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance. SAGE and WHO favour prioritising the rapid testing of symptomatic people, contact tracing and identification of infection clusters. Her concerns about the Liverpool pilot include:

    • a diversion of public money and resources. The OptiGene tests have cost £323 million.

    • the use of inadequately evaluated Covid-19 tests (direct LAMP test (OptiGene) and a lateral flow assay (Innova)

    • WHO evaluations of similar tests suggest between 1% and 5% of people without infection may get false positive readings. (With 392,000 adults in Liverpool these false positives could number anything between 3,920 to 19,600 adults)

    • there is no evidence demonstrating that Covid-19 mass screening can achieve benefit cost-efficiency

    • smaller pilot studies should have been carried out first before launching a massive pilot study of 498,000 people. (Allegedly a pilot was carried out in Manchester and it was found that half of the infections were missed).

    More at:

    https://allysonpollock.com

    The ‘Sunday Times‘ of 8 November 2020 leaked that three towns would be added to the mass-testing project. One is thought to be in The Midlands and one in the south of England. This would add another 100,000 people to be regularly tested.

    Reduced Support for the Homeless in Lockdown 2

    During Lockdown 1 many homeless people were put up in hotels, hostels and other forms of accommodation. This Government funded ‘Everyone In’ strategy was deemed to be successful in saving lives and reducing Covid-19 infections rates during Lockdown 1.

    Now it appears that money is running out to support the homeless and getting them off the street during Lockdown 2. Almost half of the night sleepers in London are foreign nationals and under the October 2020 post-Brexit legislation they could face deportation if found sleeping in the street.

    One week into Lockdown 2

    On day one of Covid-19 National Lockdown 2 (5 November 2020), I researched the following Ealing Covid-19 infection rates per 100,000 people. A week later I did this again:

    Southall Park: 265.3 became 244.1

    Ealing Broadway: 247.6 became 281.4

    Acton Central: 147.8 became 113.7

    West Ealing: 132.9 became 122.9

    A very small sample I know, but in three out of the four neighbourhoods the rate had fallen.

    Government’s Vaccine Taskforce Chair Spends £670,000 on Public Relations

    Kate Bingham, Chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, has allegedly hired eight Admiral Associates public relations consultants at £167,000/year each. Ms Bingham, a qualified biochemist and venture capitalist, was hired by the Government in May 2020. She is married to Jesse Norman MP. Bizarrely she reports directly to Prime Minister Johnson.

    Town/Hospital Based NHS Activist Groups Slowly Being Marginalised

    Three main factors at work here. Firstly the demolition of local CCGs. In 2018/19 there were 195 of them. By 1 April 2021 they will all have been closed down and ‘replaced’ be some 42 regional CCGs. Secondly, the Covid-19 response National Lockdown 2 has shifted commissioning from local, through regional, to a national undertaking. Thirdly, Covid-19 has allowed NHS bodies and Local Authorities to remove citizens from any effective, real time involvement in statutory body public meetings. In Ealing, for example, virtual, public Council care meetings employ MS-Teams software in a restricted, unhelpful fashion.

    NHS NWL EPIC

    On 17 December 2019 In NHS North West London (NWL) a public engagement initiative called ‘EPIC’ was launched at a workshop. 80 people attended of whom 34 were ‘patients’. EPIC is being used ‘to gather public opinion about local and NHS activities, involving ‘local residents in shaping and co-producing our services’. NHS NWL EPIC has built a ‘Citizen’s Panel’ of 4,000 north west London residents. The make up of the panel is allegedly representative of the 2.5 million residents in the region. I applied to join this panel but my application was ignored. Another EPIC Citizen’s panel meeting – this time a virtual one – was held 27 October 2020. In this meeting the idea of a ’Patient Forum in each borough’ was floated. The local Healthwatch, the local Council and the local voluntary sector would be invited. No timescale was set and it’s obvious that the forums would have no statutory significance whatsoever.

    Public Involvement Charter (PIC)

    EPIC is also developing its own ‘Public Involvement Charter’ (PIC). The PIC has admirable intentions and ‘core values’ – ‘the right to be involved, influence, improving outcomes, inclusion, engagement as residents want, information and transparency’. And all this as ‘we move more towards the (non-statutory) Integrated Core System (ICS)’.

    With all the generosity I can muster, I find the non-statutory EPIC, Citizen’s Panel and the Public Involvement Charter to be underwhelming, likely to be expensive and probably a complete waste of NHS and citizen’s time.

    Eric Leach

    Comments Off on Our NHS in Crisis

    The results of a survey of PDA members reveals widespread occurrences of patients being unable to afford to pay for the medicines they need. The PDA is a member of the Prescription Charges Coalition, a group of organisations calling on the UK Government to scrap prescription charges in England for people with long-term conditions.

    Currently in the UK all prescriptions are free of charge for people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that widening the scope of long-term conditions eligible for free prescriptions in England would bring about long-term cost savings for the NHS.

    Paul Day, PDA Director, said “PDA members are naturally concerned when a patient is unable to afford their prescription charges, and tell us they will explain to the patient the consequences and outline available financial support.  However, this is an issue only government can fix.  Patients being unable to receive their medicines is a false economy, as it is likely to cause the NHS more in the longer term.

    For example, a 2018 report by the York Health Economics Consortium, on behalf of Parkinson’s UK and Crohn’s and Colitis UK, found that scrapping prescription charges would save the NHS £0.8 million over 12 months for Parkinson’s sufferers and £20 million for sufferers with IBD over the same period1.

    The report goes on to predict that waiving prescription charges for Parkinson’s and Crohn’s sufferers would also have a beneficial effect on reducing health complications, with 11.4% fewer hospital admissions, 9% fewer A&E visits and a 20.4% reduction in inpatient bed days. On top of these benefits there is also the immeasurable improvement to patients’ mental wellbeing.

    The PDA survey garnered more than 350 responses altogether and the overriding tone was that pharmacists in England believe the system needed an overhaul to become fairer.  There was also support for rolling out prescription charges exemption to cover a wider array of health conditions than currently qualify.

    Over 96% of Pharmacists surveyed said they had witnessed, first-hand, patients refusing to take away a part or whole prescription due to the cost involved. In spite of this initial refusal, 90% of Pharmacists still used their professional knowledge and judgement to educate the patient and persuade them of the benefits to be gained by purchasing and taking the medication. However, if the patient does not have the money to pay for the prescription, these discussions can be extremely difficult for all concerned.

    These are situations in which Pharmacists do not receive a lot of training in and yet, in light of the current economic climate, is a conversation which could become all too familiar to our members as the general public look to cut back on spending as the economy suffers due to the pandemic.

    Almost all Pharmacists that responded to the survey said that they recommended prescription pre-payment certificates to patients that struggled to meet the costs of their prescriptions, demonstrating an active willingness to do what is right by the patient in light of a system which 90% of respondents described as “unfair”.

    Most pharmacists supported a widening of the long-term conditions eligible for prescription charges exemption, but there was also significant support for limiting the exemption exclusively to medications relating to the patient’s long-term health. Over 80% of Pharmacists in the survey felt that broadening the range of patients eligible for free prescriptions would lead to a reduction in incidents where patients decline prescriptions due to financial constraints.

    Laura Cockram, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Parkinson’s UK who chairs the Prescription Charges Coalition, said: “We are grateful to the PDA for their contribution to the work of the coalition and to pharmacists for the work they do every day supporting people with long term conditions. We believe that together we can convince the government to remove these unfair charges in England for people with long term conditions.

    Lynne Regent CEO of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, said: “For the people we represent, being unable to afford the cost of their medicines can mean that their life is at risk if they have a severe allergic reaction and have not been able to afford to pay for the prescription for their Adrenaline Auto Injectors.

    Alison Taylor, Chief Executive of the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation: “For most children and young people with a childhood liver disease, daily medication is lifelong and life-saving. Unfortunately, prescription charges are introduced at a time when young people are transferring from paediatric to adult hospital services and also when they are trying to budget to become more financially independent. This additional cost is an added stress and we cannot risk these patients cutting costs by not taking their medication, especially those on immunosuppressants. Prescription charges are viewed as deeply unfair by our community as our young people are forced to pay for essential medication when others with long-term conditions do not have to. Medical exemption certificates are only available for a very limited range of conditions, based on a list that was produced in 1968 and is largely unchanged.

    See the survey result analysis here:

    thumbnail of PCC survey analysis

    References: Prescription Charges Coalition. 2018. The cost to the NHS of prescription charges for people with long-term conditions. [ONLINE] Available at:

    http://www.prescriptionchargescoalition.org.uk/ uploads/1/2/7/5/12754304/ a3_poster_of_all.pdf. [Accessed 1 October 2020].

    Comments Off on PDA member survey shows prescription charges in England regularly prevent patients from receiving their medicines

    At this stage a debate about the post-Brexit UK Internal / Single Market is unlikely to generate much heat or light – expect for possibly amongst a select band of constitutional lawyers and academics and the most committed of political anoraks. And yet the UK government’s July white paper on the subject has the potential to radically re-fashion how public services are delivered across the UK and to finally precipitate the disintegration of the United Kingdom. The implications of the Northern Ireland Backstop will be small beer compared to the possible fallout from these UK Internal / Single Market proposals.

    Already the UK devolved administrations have expressed their alarm and concern at what the white paper proposes and have demanded a total review of the UK Government’s approach. They see it as a naked power grab by Westminster which will put the UK’s devolution settlement into a rapid reverse gear.

    Until the end of the present Brexit Transitional Period the EU Single Market rules will still prevail. They guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour, known collectively as the “four freedoms” and a level regulatory playing field in areas such as  agriculture, fisheries, food standards and environmental policy. This is policed by the EU Commission and the EU Court of Justice. While this external regulation was an unacceptable pill to swallow for hardline Brexiteers, in the main it was judged as fairly objective, detached and objective legal process. But with the end of the Transition Period this framework will disappear.

    The four UK Governments up to now have agreed the need to for a collaborative approach to provide UK citizens and business with high and consistent standards in key areas such as the employment law, movement of good and people, environment and animal welfare. And there seemed to an acceptance to respect the devolution arrangements that have evolved within the UK over the last two decades along with a shared view on the need to develop “Common Frameworks” and dispute resolution procedures which provided for a parity of esteem and safeguards for all parties.

    But the white paper on The UK Internal / Single Market is a very much a “made in Westminster” document reflecting the ideological and policy preferences of the present Tory Government. And this lack of common and shared ground with the devolved administrations  has generated the hostile reception that it has received.

    At its heart the white paper proposals is a Westminster legislative route with the use of the courts as a means of dispute resolution. The lack of a clear process for the participation devolved administrations creates the risk that many areas of devolved policy could find themselves subject to the demands of the UK Internal Market. There is a lack of clarity about which matters should be left to market competition and which matters might be subject to regulation on social, public health or environmental grounds. These are essentially as much political issues as they are technical implementation processes. But where will the judgements lie?

    The risks are even greater as the UK Government itself will remain the final arbiter in international trade and treaties. As these treaties will be binding on all of the UK, the lack of a means to involve the devolved administrations could means – “Westminster rules, like it or lump it”. The track record of the Westminster Government of involving the devolved administrations in the Brexit process or even the response to Covid-19 does not bode well for any set of arrangements that are not copper-fastened by firm commitments to respect the devolution settlement in the UK and which work with the devolved administrations as equal partners.

    Seeking to address these concerns will overlap with the UK’s final departure from the EU regulation at the end of this year and will in turn run into next spring’s elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd. There they are bound to take on additional significance as voters will also be having an opportunity to also cast a judgement on the performance of Boris Johnson’s Tory administration to date.

    3 Comments

    The Camden New Journal (CNJ) have published the sixth article about the NHS written by Susanna Mitchell and Roy Trevelion. You can see it on the CNJ website under ‘Forum’ published on 16 July 2020 here. Or you can read it below:

    Neglect and inadequate excuses lie at the heart of the government’s failures, argue Susanna Mitchell & Roy Trevelion

    It is understood that there will be a public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

    This should begin now, and not when the current crisis is over. Criticisms will be focused on the government’s disastrous response:

    Its initial adoption of a “herd immunity” strategy.

    Its failure to provide health care workers and others in front-line positions with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

    The shambolic state of its belated testing and tracking operations, including the collapse of its much-heralded app.

    Its reliance on private contractors with no relevant experience to supply services and equipment that they were subsequently unable to deliver.

    Critically, it will be claimed that all the measures taken were put in place far too late. With the result that the UK now has the highest death toll in Europe. The proportion of care-home deaths is 13 times greater than that of Germany.

    All these accusations are currently being met with the excuse that the Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented. The government claims it has worked to its utmost capacity to control and manage the outbreak.

    But this narrow focus on what was done once the virus had established itself in the country is completely inadequate.

    Rather, any inquiry must examine the long-standing reasons why the country was unable to deal with the situation in a more efficient way. Unless this is done, the necessary steps to improve our handling of future pandemics cannot begin.

    For a start, the argument that government was taken by surprise by a global viral attack is false.

    To the contrary, a research project called Exercise Cygnus was set up in 2016 to examine the question of preparedness for exactly this eventuality.

    Its report was delivered in July 2017 to all major government departments, NHS England, and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    The report concluded that “…the UK’s preparedness and response, in terms of its plans, policies and capability” were insufficient to cope with such a situation.

    It recommended NHS England should conduct further work to prepare “surge capacity” in the health service and that money should be ring-fenced to provide extra capacity and support in the NHS.

    It also stated that the social care system needed to be able to expand if it were to cope with a “worst-case scenario pandemic”.

    These warnings, however, were effectively ignored.

    One government source is reported as saying that the results of the research were “too terrifying” to be revealed.

    And a senior academic directly involved in Cygnus and the current pandemic remarked: “These exercises are supposed to prepare government for something like this – but it appears they were aware of the problem but didn’t do much about it… basically [there is] a lack of attention to what would be needed to prevent a disease like this from overwhelming the system.

    “All the flexibility has been pared away so it’s difficult to react quickly. Nothing is ready to go.”

    But the reason that the system was too inflexible and unprepared lies squarely with the government’s actions during the last decade.

    The Health and Social Care Act of 2012 ruinously fragmented the system.

    The austerity and privatisation of these polices have lethally weakened both the NHS and the social care services.

    As a result, the NHS is under-staffed, under-equipped and critically short of beds, while the social care service is crippled by underfunding almost to the point of collapse. It is therefore vital that we do not allow any inquiry to be limited to an examination of recent mistakes.

    The government’s bungled handling of the present crisis was virtually inevitable within a public health system depleted and rendered inadequate by their long-term policies.

    No post mortem can achieve a productive conclusion unless it is understood that these policies were the root cause of the shambles.

    If we are to avoid another catastrophe, these policies must be radically changed with the minimum of delay, and public health put back into public hands.

    • Susanna Mitchell and Roy Trevelion are members of the Socialist Health Association.

    Other articles written by Susanna Mitchell and Roy Trevelion are:

    Don’t allow the price of drugs to soar: Drug pricing is still a critical issue for the NHS http://camdennewjournal.com/article/dont-allow-the-price-of-drugs-to-soar?sp=1&sq=Susanna%2520Mitchell

    Beware false prophets: Don’t be fooled by the Johnson government’s promise of new money. It masks a move to further privatise the NHS
    http://camdennewjournal.com/article/nhs-beware-false-prophets?sp=1&sq=Susanna%2520Mitchell

    Brexit and the spectre of NHS US sell-off: Americanised healthcare in the UK – after our exit from the EU – would only benefit global corporations
    http://camdennewjournal.com/article/brexit-and-spectre-of-nhs-us-sell-off?sp=1&sq=Susanna%2520Mitchell

    Deep cuts operation threatens the NHS: The sneaking privatisation of the NHS will lead to the closure of hospitals and the loss of jobs
    http://camdennewjournal.com/article/deep-cuts-operation-threatens-nhs-2?sp=1&sq=Susanna%2520Mitchell

    Phone app that could destroy our GP system: A private company being promoted by government to recruit patients to its doctor service spells ruin for the whole-person integrated care we need from our NHS
    http://camdennewjournal.com/article/phone-app-gp?sp=1&sq=Susanna%2520Mitchell

     

    Comments Off on Why the UK failed the pandemic test

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

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

    1. Austerity (2010-2020)

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

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

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

    1. Poor political leadership (PM and SoS Health)

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

    1. Social care

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

    1. Inequalities

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

    1. Privatisation

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

    1. Recovery Planning

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

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

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

    NHS and NIHR

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

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

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

    A wealth tax?

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

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

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

    Populism and COVID

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

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

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

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

    27.7.2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blame Game

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

    Local Authorities and their Public Health teams

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

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

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

    Local data

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Workers and Employers

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

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

    Civil servants

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

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

    National Audit Office

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

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

    Vaccines and global health

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

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

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

    Gramsci

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

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

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

    20.7.2020

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

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    Week 18

    In this week’s blog we urge the government to stop dithering and clarify the guidance on face masks; to get on with sharing all test results with local Directors of Public Health; and to stop shifting the blame for our world-beating COVID death rate onto Public Health England (PHE) and the NHS.

    Facemasks

    The important point to note with facemasks, which gets lost in translation, is that face coverings help prevent the wearer from transmitting the virus to others. Remember in the COVID-19 pandemic we have learnt that people without symptoms can pass on the virus to others – by coughing, sneezing, shouting, singing or even talking loudly.  As the prestigious Royal Society report puts it: “My facemask protects you, your facemask protects me”

    The value of the public’s wearing facemasks has been slow to gain scientific support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as within wealthy Western Countries such as the UK and USA. The WHO have, however, changed their tune now and recommend the use of non-medical masks for the public when out and about and where maintaining social distance is difficult. The advice is clear that medical masks are for health care workers as they reduce the risk of the health care worker getting the virus from their patients. It also prevents a healthcare worker who has the virus but doesn’t have symptoms from transmitting the virus.

    For the public there are two groups of people who should wear medical quality masks according to the WHO – people over the age of 60yrs and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes. The point here is that high quality fluid resistant facemasks help protect the wearer from the virus when treating patients and similarly protects older people at risk and those younger people at higher risk due to underlying conditions. This becomes even more important as vulnerable people and those in the shielded groups emerge from their lockdown.

    The rest of the population are advised to wear non medical face coverings that can be homemade and made of cloth. There are plenty of websites (including UK government ones) showing how to make them from old socks, tee shirts, tea towels, coffee strainers and the like. The benefit of this advice is that while there is a worldwide shortage of medical grade masks the use of cloth face coverings does not risk depleting supplies for health care staff.

    Remember: My facemask protects you: Your facemask protects me!

    Mutual benefit is something that socialists have little difficulty understanding and accepting but it does require a high uptake, which is where political leadership comes in. We saw the UK Prime Minister wearing a blue Tory facemask on the 10th July alongside a hint that he is considering making it a requirement to wear them in shops. This has of course already been introduced in Scotland, which is having a comparatively successful campaign to stop the spread of COVID-19 and going for elimination of the virus like New Zealand. Sunday’s BBC News reported that the US President had finally agreed to wear a face mask because someone told him he looked like the Lone Ranger!

    In the middle of June it was made a requirement in England to wear a face covering, if travelling on public transport such as buses and trains, where maintaining a 2m distance was impossible. So the government typically is inching its way towards making a decision – a slow adopter, in the terminology of the Economics of Innovation.

    The UK is starting from a low base with estimates of 25% of the public wearing masks in public places but so too were other countries in Europe like Italy and Spain who now report adherence of up to 80% which is moving them towards the levels achieved in countries which have been successful in containing COVID-19 in East Asia. What it needs is political leadership: for example, politicians like the Chancellor should be wearing a face covering when serving food in Wagamama.

    We know that failed leaders like Trump find it counter to his macho self image to wear a sissy mask but meanwhile thousands of his citizens are going down with the virus. Our PM, who shares many of the Trump traits, has also been slow to show leadership, and he missed the opportunity when they changed the social distancing recommendation from 2m to 1m+. That was the opportunity to require that people going into shops and other enclosed public spaces must wear a face covering.

    As far as the underlying science is concerned there have been research groups in Oxford who have reviewed the literature and state that ‘the evidence is clear that people should wear masks to reduce viral transmission and protect themselves’. On the light blue side of the debate a Cambridge group of disease-modellers have stated that population-wide use of facemasks helps reduce the R rate (the number of people that one infected person can pass the virus on to) to less than 1 and prevents further waves when combined with lockdown. This benefit remained even when wearers ignored best advice, contaminating themselves by touching their faces and adjusting their masks! In answer to critics these researchers have pointed out that there have been no clinical trials of the advice to cough into your elbow, to social distance or to quarantine.

    It comes down to political leadership and we note that Nicola Sturgeon has made the move, successful countries in Europe have too, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on the Government to get on with it. Surely we have learnt enough about COVID-19 being spread before symptoms arise – by the so call silent spreaders?

    Sharing Test Results

    In previous Blogs we have talked about the hugely expensive and unsatisfactory ‘NHS” test and trace initiative. Imagine a Director of Public Health (DPH) within a local patch who has colleagues in Public Health and the local NHS/PH laboratories. Under normal circumstances they have a strong professional relationship and get test results emailed back very fast from the Laboratory with information that is useful for contact tracing – name and address, GP, date of birth and the history leading up to the test being taken. They can act quickly and ensure good liaison with Public Health experts and the local NHS. Logically the government should in England, like they have in Wales, have invested in a greater capacity of local testing. The so-called Pillar 1 tests have been this sort, and results have been supplied to local Directors of Public Health (DsPH) in a timely way.

    Enter stage left Matt Hancock and his buddies. Establish something completely new – the so called NHS Test and Trace initiative– at a great cost and run by an accountancy firm Deloitte and a private contract company SERCO neither with any prior experience. They establish some Lighthouse Laboratories with Big Pharma,  who may be geographically close to the local NHS labs but are contracted privately as a parallel service. They establish contracts with Amazon/Royal Mail/the British Army and others to take the swabs and transport them. Result – a mess where huge numbers of tests are lost, the results delayed and poor quality information is belatedly supplied to bemused DsPH . That is what we have seen in Kirklees, Leicester and now some other districts which have not had the benefit of the so called Pillar 2 tests done by Test and Trace.

    The latest data published by the government shows that there are more than a million tests that were ‘sent out’ but not completed. This all helped Matt Hancock show at the Downing Street press conferences that he had the testing capacity and had posted the swabs out! No wonder that the UK Statistical Authority have been concerned about how the information on testing has been presented!

    One of the excuses offered by the government has been about personal data being shared with DsPH. They forget that this is a PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY and that COVID-19 is a notifiable disease and there is a statutory duty to report on cases.  Again we see dither and delay……

    June 24th PHE starts to share postcode, age and ethnicity with DsPH.

    July 3rd NHS Digital releases Pillar 1 and 2 results.

    July 6th Positive test results reported at below Local Authority level

    July 15th Postcode level dashboard to be supplied including contact tracing at LA level.

    July 16th Test results at smaller population areas (down to a 6000 households level)

    The message here is that the data from NHS Test and Trace is being very slowly shared with local DsPH and their teams who have been charged with managing local outbreaks like the one in Leicester. The key issue is – why did the Government encourage the design of the system from the top down rather than bottom up?

    Don’t blame PHE and the NHS.

    The PM and Matt Hancock have become a bit nervous about the ‘blame game’ as the demand for an urgent and time limited inquiry increases. Their performance has been poor compared to others within the UK like Scotland and across the Irish Sea and the English Channel. So who can they point the finger at?

    The Daily Telegraph is of course the PM’s previous employer and vehicle for his thoughts. It was in this newspaper on the 30th June that we first heard about Public Health England shouldering the blame.  The newspaper headline was ‘Heat on PHE as the Prime Minister admits Coronavirus response was sluggish’.

    The performance of PHE has not been faultless but we know why they were not able to scale up their testing capability when they had the opportunity. During the pandemic they have provided expert public health guidance to the system and supported local Health Protection teams but those teams have been “slimmed down” to anorexic levels during the austerity years, along with Local Authority departments.

    Public Health England was created in 2013 when it replaced the Health Protection Agency. It is an executive agency accountable to Ministers and the Department of Health and Social Care. It has many specialist research laboratories vital to national security – as used when Novichok was used in the attempted assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. Remember the local DPH leading the local response, and then being supported by Porton Down and Public Health England?

    Public Health England employs 5500 staff with a budget of £287m per annum.

    The infectious diseases element of PHE has a budget of £90m per annum so it surprised everyone to learn that the Government has set aside £10 billion for spending on the NHS Test and Trace system. This money will be going to private firms such as SECO and G4S and dwarfs the entire PHE budget 110 fold because it is paying not just the cost – as it would if it were being done in the public sector – but the cost plus the high profits they demand!

    Remember too that on July10th G4S settled its Serious Fraud Office (SFO) case in which it was accused of overcharging the Ministry of Justice for electronic tagging of offenders. The Serious Fraud Office said that G4S had accepted responsibility for three counts of fraud that were carried out in an effort to ‘dishonestly mislead’ the government, in order to boost its profits.

    As the Guardian reports on the G4S case :“The £44.4m in fines and costs takes the total paid out by outsourcing firms involved in the prisoner tagging scandal to more than £250m. SERCO reached its own £22.9m agreement with the SFO last year, six years after repaying £68m to the Ministry of Justice”.

    So what is our government doing? It is pointing the finger of blame at PHE, which is an executive agency accountable to Ministers, and handing out generous contracts to G4S and SERCO who only recently have been found guilty of fraud.

    The one success in the pandemic has been the way that the NHS coped with the surge of cases – yes: hard to believe, but the PM is also pointing his finger at the NHS, too, and is threatening another round of Tory disorganisation.

    Clap Clap.

    13.7.2020

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

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