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    Today HIV i-Base (where I work part-time) and the UK-CAB (of which I’m a member) joined with more than 70 other organisations sending a joint statement to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Health, and the interim leadership of Public Health England regarding our concerns of the restructuring of public health in England.

    Over 70 health organisations unite to raise serious concerns with Government about plans to reorganise the public health system

    Today over 70 health organisations and alliances have sent a joint statement to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Health, and the interim leadership of Public Health England, raising serious concerns about the reorganisation of public health now underway. This follows recent announcements that PHE will cease to exist by April next year and be replaced by the National Institute of Health Protection.

    The statement is endorsed by a wide range of leading health organisations, including the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal Society for Public Health, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the BMA, the SPECTRUM public health research collaboration, the Smokefree Action Coalition and the Richmond Group of health and care charities. The statement warns that:

    “Reorganisation risks fragmentation across different risk factors and between health protection and health improvement. Organisational change is difficult and can be damaging at the best of times and these are not the best of times. A seamless transition from the current to the new system is essential.”

    While recognising that there are opportunities:

    “There are opportunities from this re-organisation to improve on current delivery, but only if there is greater investment combined with an emphasis on deepening expertise, improving co-ordination and strengthening accountability.”

    The statement, launched today in a letter to the BMJ from key signatories sets out the principles which all agree must underpin the new health improvement system. This includes the need for renewed investment into public health to address the years of cuts the sector has seen, an interconnected approach with the right infrastructure and expertise to support national, regional and local delivery; and the need to sustain local government system leadership at local level, while strengthening co-ordination with the NHS.

    Dr Nick Hopkinson, a respiratory specialist at Imperial College London, chair of Action on Smoking and Health, speaking on behalf of the Smokefree Action Coalition as a signatory to the letter said:

    “We are in a state of public health emergency because of COVID-19, and system reorganisation at this time brings with it great risks, as well as opportunities. That is why the public health community has come together to set out for Government the principles that we all agree must underpin any reorganisation of the health improvement and wider functions of Public Health England (PHE). If we are to recover from the global pandemic and recession, health improvement is not a ‘nice to have’ but an essential component of a successful response to the challenges we face.”

    Professor Maggie Rae, President of the Faculty of Public Health, signatory to the BMJ letter, said:

    “Reorganisation of Public Health England (PHE) brings with it a real risk that some of the critical functions of PHE will be ignored. The pandemic has shone the light on the health inequalities that exist in the country and it is clear that those with the poorest health have been hit hardest. Scaling up, not down, the health improvement functions of PHE is a prerequisite if the Government is to deliver on its commitments to ‘level up’ society; increase disability-free life years significantly, while reducing inequalities; to improve mental health; increase physical activity; reduce obesity and alcohol harm; and to end smoking. Ensuring there is adequate funding, a robust infrastructure and sufficient public health expertise to deliver at national, regional and local level, is fundamental.”

    Professor Linda Bauld, Chair of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and Director of public health research consortium SPECTRUM, signatory to the BMJ letter said:

    “While COVID-19 is a pressing emergency, the truth is that chronic non-infectious diseases are still overwhelmingly responsible for preventable death and disease in this country. What’s more those with the poorest existing health have the worst outcomes from COVID-19. A future public health system must be robust enough to protect us from the threats posed by both infectious and non-infectious diseases.”

    Joint statement to the Government on Public Health Reorganisation. Link to statement and list of signatories https://smokefreeaction.org.uk/phehealthimprov/

    Link to BMJ letter: Rapid Response: Joint statement to the Government on Public Health Reorganisation: https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3263/rr-1

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    This week the Government is expected to announce that it will scrap the pandemic response function of Public Health England, and merge this with NHS Test and Trace to form an agency “similar to the German Robert Koch Institute”. It is also particularly distressing that the news was leaked to the press before PHE staff could be told.

    The SHA warns the reckless decision to restructure and defund public health services in the midst of a pandemic will result in further avoidable deaths. The public health service, nationally and locally has already been severely starved of funds as a result of austerity.

    The NHS Test and Trace Service (led by Baroness Dido Harding, and run by Deloitte, Serco, Sitel and other private sector outsourcing companies) has received strong criticism for its poor response to the COVID 19 pandemic.

    Dr Brian Fisher, SHA Chair, says “This is yet another example of the Government putting lives at risk by pursuing ideologically driven privatisation in a time of crisis.”

    Socialist Health Association members have told us that “this is another example of this government’s scapegoating, most especially since the man telling us the PHE response has been unacceptable was the man in charge, deliberately ignoring their expert recommendations and favouring sweet manufacturers and other non-expert businesses to deliver a service to the public. Public health has been underfunded, to the point it has required almost superhuman efforts from its staff to maintain a quality of service from the time of the so called Lansley Reforms. For that, our public health experts, like our nurses, are rewarded with a kick in the teeth.”

    SHA calls on the Government to reinvest funds from failing NHS Test and Trace private providers into the public sector pandemic response across the NHS, Public Health England and Local Authorities.

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    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

     

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    On Friday 24 July 2020 HIV i-Base published the sixth COVID-19 supplement to HIV Treatment Bulletin (HTB). Please see this link.

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

    This is a slightly expanded issue of HTB that covers both AIDS 2020 and related virtual meetings plus a fair number of COVID-19 developments that seemed too important to leave out. It is a mixed compilation, but hopefully useful.

    This edition of HTB includes reports from the virtual AIDS 2020 conference and linked satellite meetings on COVID-19.

    The main heading news from AIDS 2020 included continued reductions in the signal concerning dolutegravir and neural tube defects, further results on weight gain from the ADVANCE study, cabotegravir as PrEP in HPTN 083, and an early report of HIV remission.

    As the introduction to these reports shows, interacting with the virtual conference was not always easy. Although we include links to the site in our reports, the site will only be open access (without registration) after 27 July 2020. 

    The difficult website was reflected in overall attendance. Even when watching live events (and many were missed due to technical problems with the site), more than 2000 delegates were rarely online (when more than 20,000 people usually attend).

    Many of the satellite workshops are easier to find and watch, and we include reports from the COVID-19 workshop on HCV drugs to treat COVID-19 and an update on remdesivir. As with the AIDS 2020 website, many of the webcasts and posters are now offline.

    The rest of this extended issue includes both HIV reports and a continued focus on COVID-19.

    For all the hope that coverage of COVID-19 might be less needed, this issue contains another 12 pages about coronavirus. Many important developments come from UK research – including new treatments, immune response, race and ethnicity and vaccines.

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

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

    1. Austerity (2010-2020)

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

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

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

    1. Poor political leadership (PM and SoS Health)

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

    1. Social care

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

    1. Inequalities

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

    1. Privatisation

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

    1. Recovery Planning

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

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

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

    NHS and NIHR

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

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

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

    A wealth tax?

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

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

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

    Populism and COVID

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

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

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

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

    27.7.2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    The BMA is urging the Government to ensure more people take advantage of routine vaccinations after a concerning fall in coverage rates in recent years.

    In a report published today, the Association says that many immunisation programmes have been disrupted because of the pandemic as the NHS focused on responding to immediate health concerns and now it’s imperative that they are re-started and that people are encouraged to be immunised.

    It also notes that childhood vaccination in particular has plummeted during this time – dropping by around a fifth in total – despite advice that childhood immunisation should continue during Covid-19.

    According to NHS Digital, and highlighted in this report, coverage for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in England was at 94.5% in 2018-19, down from 94.9% in 2017-18 and below the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    The BMA’s report says that making people aware of the benefits of routine vaccinations, such as the MMR vaccine, is vital. This is not just for their wellbeing, but also when we consider worrying reports about a lack of confidence in a potential Covid-19 vaccine and the implications that could have for general uptake.

    Altogether, the BMA is calling for action to:

    • widen vaccine availability and target specific populations
    • ensure adequate funding to deliver fully resourced immunisation services
    • raise public awareness and understanding of immunisation programmes
    • ensure health service IT supports vaccine uptake
    • increase vaccine uptake among NHS workers

    Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chair, said: “It’s been incredibly worrying to watch the decline in vaccine rates in the UK over the past few years –  for example, we lost our ‘measles-free’ status in 2019 and the pandemic has of course meant even fewer vaccinations have been carried out as the NHS battled on all fronts to keep the virus at bay.

    “Routine vaccination is so important, and many doctors can remember a time without it. Vaccination against common but often serious ailments has changed the face of public health and are rightly ranked by WHO, alongside clean water, as the public health intervention which has had the greatest impact on the world’s health.

    “That’s why, as we recover from this pandemic, everything must be done to increase vaccine uptake – particularly as we head into flu season and vulnerable people are at greater risk of becoming ill.

    “This means not only making sure the public understands the importance of getting vaccinated, but also resourcing the health service with what it needs to deliver this; adequate funding for immunisation programmes, IT services, and encouraging staff to protect themselves too.

    “Health has never been more at the forefront of people’s minds, and the Government needs to utilise this as a matter of urgency – not just for the sake of the population now, but the generations that follow.”

    Oliver Fry

    The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

    Posted on behalf of the BMA by Jean Hardiman Smith

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    The contact tracing programme in Wales is called “Test, Trace and Protect” (TTP) which emphasises the purpose of the exercise i.e to protect individuals, families and communities. This provides a better focus that “Test, Track and Trace” in England which seems to focus on the process rather than its purpose. The Welsh programme is firmly based on a partnership / public service model.

    The population of Wales is about 3.1 million people ( approx. 55.5 million in England ). The internal market have been abolished in the Welsh NHS over a decade ago. Health care is delivered through seven unitary health boards ( and specialist health trusts for cancer and ambulance service). The health boards are responsible for the planning and delivery of primary and secondary services within their population footprint. There is no “payment by results”.

    The health board geographical footprint is co-terminus with about 2-5 local councils. Partnership working between health boards and local authorities is delivered by Regional Partnership Boards – with improving, but variable, success.

    Public Health Wales covers all of the country. There are public health practitioners attached to each health board though there is some criticism that the service is over-centralised. Local authorities are responsible for Environmental Health.

    The care sector operates on a similar basis as England though means testing for services is more generous in Wales

    With the outbreak of Covid-19, the Welsh Government supported a four nations UK response. Along with all the administrations across the UK it went into “lockdown” at the same time. But has time has gone on it has taken a more cautious and distinctive approach compared to the Westminster. This approach has fairly substantial support in Wales.

    From the start the Welsh Government sought to mobilise a co-ordinated public sector response to the pandemic along with the voluntary sector. Support from the private sector was sought in the supply chain in areas such as PPE but otherwise scarcely involved in direct clinical or health roles.

    Public Health Wales, along with some health board and university capacity, was responsible for the initial testing regime. At first the Welsh Government chose not to avail of the private sector led Lighthouse Testing programme that was being launched in England until it could guarantee the results of the testing was made available.

    Like the rest of the UK, Wales had a hesitant start to the TTP process but things have now settled down. The service delivered on a three tier basis – national, regional and local.

    The Welsh Government and Public Health Wales are main players at a national level. They set out the broad framework, set standards and provide professional advice. There is a single national IT platform which felicitates the TTP programme. This allows a national overview and more coherent understanding of what is happening.

    Public Health Wales also provides the main testing facilities with some use being made of health board capacity and the Lighthouse laboratories. The present testing capacity is about 20,000 tests per day with about 5k being sourced via the Lighthouse capacity. However this capacity has never come close to being called upon with 3-5,000 tests typically done daily. About 50% of test results are available in 24 hours and 85% in 48 hours. The delays mainly arise in tests being undertaken in north Wales but this should be addressed as new capacity is being put in place to locally serve north Wales.

    The regional tier is co-terminus with health board boundaries and involves the health board and its partner local authorities along with input from Public Health Wales. The region supports and co-ordinates the local delivery of the programme. It also provides step-up and advice and support for front line workers.

    The health boards are now responsible for the setting up the testing services across their patch. These samples are taken and transferred on to Public Health Wales ( or the other involved laboratories) to undertake the tests. The test results are usually texted to patients. There in on-line access to the test service.

    The local tier provides the front-line contact tracing service through local government Environmental Health officers and local government employees who have been transferred from other duties due to the pandemic. Some teams will also have some health authority staff. The tracing teams operate roughly at a Upper Super Output Area level (about 30-50,000 population). There are about 600 workers involved at the moment but is possible that 1,600 may be required depending on the level of demand.

    In Wales, during the period from 1st June to 21 June, 1,905 positive cases were referred to local and regional contact tracing teams. This is now down to about 100 referrals per week.

    At the moment over 85% of index cases have been contacted by these local contact teams with over 90% of contacts have been reached and advised. The local knowledge of the contact tracers is felt to be an important advantage in delivering the programme. As well, local government’s involvement allows for the provision a range of local support services where needed.

    Prior to the launch of the main contact tracing programme the Welsh Government undertook a pilot exercise to across different parts of the Wales to identify potential problems. This has allowed the main programme be launched fairly smoothly.

    To the middle of July the number of fatalities in Wales is in lower single figures with no deaths on some days – down from a daily peak of 43 in early April. There are less than 30 new cases daily a reduction from a peak of 391.

    Plans are also being developed to boost the Welsh GP viral surveillance programme with the target of covering 20% of the population. This should provide improved sero-surveillance across Wales to provide an early alert system as we face the risk of a second wave of Covid-19.

    Compared to some other parts of the UK, the Welsh Test, Trace and Protect scheme has attracted public confidence and support. The Welsh Government aspires to eradicating the virus as far as is possible but it recognises that its long, much used border with England means that not all the necessary levers are at its disposal. It also acknowledges that the lack of adequate welfare benefit support from Westminster for those who have to isolate due to Covid-19 infection or through being contacts is an avoidable vulnerability in the campaign to contain and eradicate the virus.

    2 Comments

    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.

    2 Comments

    HIV charities, community groups, health professionals and activists have today written to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

    They write to express their profound concern at the decision to roll back the Secretary of State’s commitment on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV) in England.

    Last week it was announced that the budget provided to local authorities for the implementation of PrEP would be reduced from £16 million to £11 million.

    The letter says this budget cut for PrEP jeopardises the ability to fully roll-out the most powerful prevention tool to help fulfil Mr Hancock’s commitment to end HIV by 2030.

    The HIV sector has requested an urgent meeting with Mr Hancock to discuss his decision to cut funding for this important HIV prevention intervention.

    Please read the letter here:

    Letter to Matt Hancock from HIV sector – PrEP funding July 2020

     

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

    Local lockdown

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

    Outbreak plans

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

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

    Public Health England review

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

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

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

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

    Deprivation and health

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

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

    The garment industry

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

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

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

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

    Health and Safety

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

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

    Incompetent government.

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

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

    incompetent people don’t realise their incompetence’.

    5.7.2020

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

    1 Comment