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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

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

    Test and Trace

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

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

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

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

    Workplaces

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

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

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

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

    Contact tracing

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

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

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

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

    Social distancing

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

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

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

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

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

    29.6.2020

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

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

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

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

    BAME

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

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

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

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

    Test and Trace

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

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

    The app!

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

    PPE contracts

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

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

    And finally

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

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

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

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

    Hear hear.

    22.6.2020

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

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    So we are into our 14th weekly blog tracking our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many issues which we have raised before which remain relevant over the past week. The most notable are the continuing blunders by the Johnson government, intent on appearing to have a strategy and being in control. The podium politics continue with premature announcements blurted out as intent, without having checked out their feasibility with professional advisers. The schools debacle was always couched in terms of recalcitrant Trade Unions rather than the fact that our school buildings have lacked investment over decades, class sizes are high and teacher staffing relatively low. This means that you cannot reduce class sizes to enable social distancing in the buildings you have available! A simple estimate of size of buildings, number of children and staffing levels would have demonstrated that this was always going to be a challenge before taking account of the risks of transmission to teachers and back via children and staff to people’s homes. The embarrassing retreat could have been avoided and the stress on schools reduced by consulting those that know how the system runs. Meanwhile schools are open to vulnerable children and greater efforts can be made to get them back in the school setting.

    A similar fiasco has emerged in health when, suddenly and belatedly worried about outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes, the government decides to direct all NHS staff in patient/public facing roles to wear surgical facemasks and all visitors to wear facemasks. Imagine the planning this requires and the supplies that will be needed to sustain it! PPE and the scarcity of medical facemasks has been a story throughout the pandemic. But there was no consultation with the NHS before the announcement on a Friday evening.

    As for Test, Trace and Isolate (TTI) this has had a ‘wobbly’ start, as rather than trusting in local Directors of Public Health (DsPH) to build local teams that local laboratories can report to quickly, they have sidestepped the service and asked private contractors, with no prior experience, to set up a telephone answering/contact tracer service. Training has been very basic and it is not delivering the timely communication needed to ensure cases isolate themselves and their contacts traced urgently by local staff. In the ‘post-Cummings stay alert era’ it is already emerging that people may have less commitment to listen to government guidance, and when the lockdown is easing will be reluctant to stay off work and name their contacts who may be in a similar position.

    BAME and Inequalities

    Two issues, which we have raised before, are the need to address racism in our society and its link to general inequalities. The Black Lives Matter movement is trying to ensure that the government does not whitewash this issue and hide behind statistical methods which try to discount the fact that BAME communities are over represented in disadvantaged groups and have additional pressures on them that arise from racism in society, in key organisations and in the individuals they interact with.

    We have seen an extraordinary example of institutional racism over the process of publication of the Public Health England (PHE) report on Disparities in risks and outcomes of COVID-19.

    This report was commissioned by the government, ‘from the podium’ in Downing Street, when confronted by the announcements of deaths related to COVID-19 where BAME people have been heavily over represented. The NHS employs many BAME staff but did not expect to hear that while 44% of NHS doctors are from BAME groups they accounted for 90% of deaths of doctors. BAME nurses are 20% of the workforce but account for 75% of deaths. So Ministers appointed Prof Fenton a senior Public Health Director in PHE to lead the review. This provided some comfort to the BAME communities, as Fenton is an articulate and experienced black health professional able to access the views of BAME communities to deepen our understanding of what was happening to lead to these extraordinary outcomes.

    In the event publication of the report, which had been delivered by Fenton and PHE as promised by the end of May, had been delayed. Professor Fenton had been booked to lead a webinar for the Local Government Association (LGA) on Tuesday 2nd June fully expecting to be able to refer to his report. He seemed unaware that the report would not be published by the Government, without it being clear that this was the Fenton Report, until a couple of hours later, and even then without it being clear that the publication was the Fenton Report. What has subsequently emerged is that the section of his report that starts to address the pathways that lead to these huge differences in health outcome had been taken out of the report without consultation. This was hugely disappointing to the many hundreds of individuals and organisations who had contacted him and the review team during their rapid review process. The LGA webinar had been hosted by colleagues in Birmingham, and both the local Director of Public Health for Birmingham and the Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, Cllr Hamilton, were clearly engaged in providing insight and proposals as to how to start to address the challenges.

    Of course we do not yet fully understand the shenanigans that have gone on but suspect that someone else was asked to edit the report and effectively take out all the challenging political bits and resort to a dry re-publication of some of the statistics which we knew about and which had led to the inquiry itself! This new epidemiological input seemed determined to try and account for as much as possible of the higher mortality by apparently neutral factors such as co-morbidities, occupational risk, living in cities and relative deprivation. Such findings had been submitted by a SAGE report at the end of April, which had not been peer reviewed or published. This attempt to explain away the disparities seriously misses the point about racism and how it works through cumulative lifetime risks. Treating Prof Fenton in this way exhibits a form of institutional racism that no doubt the Ministers, and the experts drawn into stripping the report of its insights into how racism works, do not grasp.

    Despite taking account of sex, age, deprivation and region in England people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British. By stripping out other factors an attempt has been made to soften the data impact and bin the feedback from local communities based on their life experience and the specific experience with COVID-19.

    Other countries have shown that there is an overrepresentation of black people amongst hospitalised patients. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, for example, that: in New York City death rates from COVID-19 among black/African American people was, 92/100,000 and Hispanic/Latino people 74. These rates are substantially higher than the 45/100,000 for the white population and 34 for Asians.

    Back in the UK, if you look outside the health sphere you see similar data in the criminal justice system. The BAME population make up 14% of the population yet 51% of inmates of the youth justice system. Stop and search records show that black people have 38 searches /1000 population compared to 4 for the white population. They are also more likely to be arrested with 35/1000 for the black population compared to 10 for the white population. The black population are five times more likely to be restrained and twice as likely to die in custody. Looking specifically at the black population rather than BAME groups as a whole they account for 3.3% of the population and 12% of the prison population. Black people make up 1.2% of police officers while 93% are of white ethnicity (Sunday Times, 14th June).

    This information has been well known to the black populations of most of our cities since well before the 1981 riots in Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side, Handsworth and Chapeltown, let alone the Black Lives Matter protests of 2000.

    Inequalities

    The Office of National Statistics (ONS) still manage to produce reports that have not been politically edited in the way that Fenton’s was, and they have published a review on inequalities and COVID-19. This shows that the most deprived areas of England have more than twice the rate of death from COVID-19 than the least deprived. In the period from the 1st March until the 31st May the death rates were 128/100,000 for the most deprived compared to 58.8 for the least deprived. This inequality continues to be proportionately high and is mirrored in Wales too where they measure multiple deprivation differently (WIMD) yet still show a contrast between 109/100,000 for the more deprived populations compared to 57.5 in the least deprived. Both nations show a gradient across the groups, which is the important point that Marmot and others have made that inequality is not just something that influences the socially excluded groups but adversely affects the whole society from top to bottom.

    The SHA has consistently argued that we need to seriously address the social determinants of health and wellbeing. We also recognise the work that Marmot has done globally with the message that where we live, learn, work and play affects our health. The conditions in which people live, learn, work, and play contribute to their health. These conditions over time lead to different levels of health risks, needs and outcomes among people in certain racial and ethnic minority groups.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America use this approach to set out how these determinants might be tackled despite the fact that the Trump administration is deaf and blind to their advice!

    The international response to the George Floyd murder on the street in Minneapolis must be built on to turn these daily injustices around. The Black Lives Matter campaign needs support.

    As Labour’s David Lammy MP says:

    We can’t just look back in 5 years and remember George Floyd as a hashtag. We have to find a way to transform this righteous anger into meaningful reform’.

    15th June 2020

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

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    ECONOMIC RECOVERY

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

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

    TEST, TRACE, ISOLATE

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Information Governance and Track, Trace and Isolate

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

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

    Clients got their personal data hacked.

    Dido Harding

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


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

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

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

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

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

    CONTRACTS WITH PRIVATE COMPANIES

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

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

    PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES

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

    RELEASING PROFESSIONAL STAFF AT THE NO 10 MEETING

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

    OPENING SCHOOLS

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

    EXCESS DEATHS

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

    TAKE THE NHS OUT OF ANY TRADE DEALS WITH THE US

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

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

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

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

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

    1 Comment

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

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

    Lonely Ministers

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

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

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

    What is the strategy?

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

    Led by the science?

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

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

    Test, Trace and Isolate (TTI)

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

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

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

    Auditing misuse of public funds

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

    BAME communities and COVID

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

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

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

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

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

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

    7.6.2020

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

    2 Comments

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

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

    1. Key messages:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Real time analysis and assessment of infection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    We are concerned that the Government has

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

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

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

    Conclusions

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

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

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

    Sources

    Posted by Brian Fisher on behalf of the Policy Team.

     

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

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

    Key messages

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

    Source: Douglas et all, BMJ April 2020

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

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

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

    Conclusions:

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

    Actions

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

    Sources

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

    Posted by Brian Fisher on behalf of the Policy Team.

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

    Too slow to act

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

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

    Protect the NHS

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

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

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

    The Privately owned Social Care sector

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

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

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

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

    Follow the money

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

    Test, trace and isolate (TTI)

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

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

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

    Game changers – and what is the game?

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

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

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

    Palantir

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

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

    Conclusion

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

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

    24th May 2020

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

    2 Comments

    The crises in health and social care are rightly at the forefront of people’s anger about the government’s lack of preparation for an inevitable pandemic, as we now face with Covid-19. People are dying unnecessarily. An integral element, simmering under the surface, is the fragmentation of public health nutrition services that should provide food security within our communities so vulnerable people are kept in good nutritional status. Yet even before this crisis there was an estimated 3 million malnourished people, with an aging population this will increase, and 8 million people in food insecurity. As lockdowns began, research from the Food Foundation estimated 3 million households were already experiencing hunger. Inequalities underpin the right to life in this crisis: mortality rates for people living in deprived areas are double that for those in less deprived areas, and interlocks with ethnicity. Some highlight ‘obesity’ but is not the problem food and health inequalities? Poverty underpins people’s lack of access to foods of good nutritional quality. Rising poverty levels are driven by erosion of welfare state and neoliberal restructuring of our economy through deregulation, precarity and low pay. Child poverty has increased by 100, 000 over the past year with around 30% of all children living in poverty. Food poverty is increasing and requires structural change not short term solutions. To protect child health and meaningfully tackle poverty a host of fiscal steps are urgently required to enable families to buy food, such as basic living income and immediate action to increase welfare. This does not remove the need for a food security system that ensures a basic level of socially acceptable nutrition is available for all; that includes universal free school meals and hot meals for older people. Public health nutrition is more than just food. It’s about ‘social’ nutrition: the infrastructure of community resources that enable people to eat together and to collectively care.

    The networks of care within our communities have broken down as the infrastructure providing services and civil spaces have closed. There is little research that documents how the spending cuts and restructuring within public health has impacted public health nutrition. However, research is underway that aims to inform the inevitable public enquiry on Covid-19. As socialists, we need to go further and give a call to action to stop further privatisation and charitisation of PHN. Fundamentally, the interests of private industry and charity conflict with the welfare state. Despite the altruism of many involved, these organisations cannot meet current or future needs which will increase in the looming economic depression. They cannot enable the voices of those who are suffering in our communities.

    Privatisation of PHN began under New Labour as food companies were brought into public health policy. From the 2000s non-NHS providers entered PHN. Local government spending cuts and austerity hit prevention budgets including nutrition-based, child weight management and life style interventions. Cuts to nutrition-related services are broadly felt because nutritional health is cross-departmental involving education, community engagement, adult and children and young people’s services and a range of professions including health visiting. Nutrition was embedded in the Sure Start programme. Since 2010, 1000 children centres have closed as £1 billion has been cut from budgets. The number of community centres, lunch clubs and meals on wheels for the elderly has been decimated. In this crisis, the role of schools in feeding children has shown their centrality in community life. Yet there are barriers due to privatisation that limit a strategic approach. For example, in most neighbourhoods, schools have the only industrial kitchens capable of preparing and distributing foods to large numbers of people. Yet access to these is mostly controlled by private food companies, including multinationals, that hold the catering contracts. So, in many ways communities are isolated, disconnected from power and the resources to enable local solutions. Social theorists argue that ‘austerity localism’ brought cuts, disempowered local communities creating distrust and disconnect with local government. Community involvement is further limited by democratic deficits that are created by material constraints and lack of structural mechanisms. All this suggests that it will be harder for public health to connect with communities and understand the scale of their need. While not supporting the authoritarian Chinese State, community engagement was integral to the Chinese response.

    Responsibility for public health nutrition lies with local government who have enlisted third sector organisations (TSOs), social entrepreneurs, and food industry to construct the state’s food aid response in this emergency. From a dietetic standpoint, it is concerning that food banks can distribute foods that may unintentionally cause harm. For example, food banks only need warn of potential allergens, if they are set up as a business.  Food banks can distribute infant formula. This is risky  for example, for vulnerable families with complex needs and should not be the responsibility of food banks. It suggests a lack of a cross-departmental strategic approach that links with professionals such as nutritionists and health visiting teams.  Providing food at the general level of need is also problematic. The voluntary sector has strategic limitations in its ability to scale up according to need. In London, developing a strategic approach has been spearheaded by NGOs at City level, and boroughs through food action alliances. The food alliances are networks of non-state and non-industry providers, involving a range of activities such as food banks, food growers, community kitchens – supermarkets- fridges. They connect with local government through their public health departments. As crisis hit, they quickly turned their energies to organising emergency food aid. Phenomenal efforts are being made to scale up to meet increased demands. However, they face barriers. For example, many TSOs are involved in competitive processes to win and maintain local government contracts. Funding is often short term; a precarious situation for TSOs. In this crisis they need to collect evidence for ‘sustainability’, that is, to secure future funding.

    Despite the existence of resilience structures at regional and borough levels, strategies to meet increased food needs were not apparent. Indeed, there was little national food strategy (Lang, 2020). In London, as the crisis unfolded new charitable funding streams emerged. Four weeks into the crisis, the owner of London’s free newspaper, Evening Standard, and son of Russian oligarch intervened to feed ‘vulnerable’ Londoners through a new charitable alliance. This centralises food surplus supplies and distribution across boroughs. This role of charities is legitimised by London’s Mayor, albeit likely unintentionally. This upscaling of charities to deliver such large-scale logistical challenges raises concerns about the future direction for PHN.

    Altruism continues with the emergence of new food banks, food project social entrepreneurs and the Mutual Aids. With roots in 19th Century social welfare based on fraternalism not paternalism, these are today on the one hand wonderful, inspiring acts of solidarity but what will they become? There are many questions to consider: Do they adopt a public health perspective that considers inequalities including class and ethnicity or are these individual acts of charity and kindness? What is the class composition of the Mutual Aids? Will there be unintended consequences? Within communities, will they bridge or increase class divides and inequalities? Do they provide uniform and equitable support?  Do they contribute to food democracy within our communities? How are they accountable?

    These and other new solidarity networks enter into the terrain of unevenly shared and disjointed public health resources. Across London, a postcode lottery in public health nutrition pre-dates this Covid crisis. For example, eligibility for free school meals depends on the political priorities of local councils as well as government policy. Universal free school meals (UFSM) for all primary age children are provided in only 4 of the 33 boroughs. This includes children in families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). Their temporary access to FSM during this crisis will be withdrawn as schools reopen. A cruel, intentional political act belonging to the ideology of hostile environment; socially divisive among young children teaching them that ‘others’ are undeserving and go hungry. What will Labour councils do when the onus for feeding children with NRPF returns to them?

    The differences between and within boroughs is seen at the level of schools. Schools take different approaches with some providing food for all children in-need and others based on FSM eligibility. Seven weeks since its introduction, the government’s voucher scheme that replaced FSM continues to be problematic, adding to the suffering of families; some schools are bypassing with their own voucher systems. Schools are filling the gaps but cannot do so as a cross-borough strategic approach due to privatisation. In contrast to London, New York took a pan-city approach with 400 public schools providing food for all adults and children in-need.

    Despite incredible efforts, TSOs, have made it clear they cannot fulfil the function to feed ALL in need:    ‘There is not enough free food or volunteer capacity to feed all economically vulnerable people through local authority and charitable means’. Instead they argue that central government should provide the financial means to enable everyone to buy food that meets their nutritional and cultural needs. From an ethical view it is irresponsible that central government assigns responsibility to local authorities and TSOs without giving the resources to carry out responsibility. It is well established that emergency food aid systems need to be nationally co-ordinated strategies. The UK government’s use of the armed forces for food distribution to the 1.5 million shielded clinically extremely vulnerable people, is recognition of the level of strategic organisation that is needed. It shows that only central government has the resources and therefore responsibility to feed ALL people in-need, across all vulnerabilities. It is not possible for this to be a function of TSOs. How do TSOs and local government decide ‘vulnerability’ without interlocking socially divisive ideas of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor? These are political decisions. Solving hunger takes political will (Caraher and Furey, 2018).

     

    The politics of privatisation and charitisation are felt most strongly on the frontline by the community food activists some engaged for decades in fighting to hold their communities together. One such leading activist and mother, Maya in South London, said

    I’m tired of fighting, fighting, fighting”. Yet she remains on the frontline running the local food bank/social supermarket. She says: diets will slump in areas like this … people use social supermarket but can’t get the foods children want … fresh fruits and vegetables have short shelf life ..we have to respond to new issues that come along …the hidden people that now come out who are in extreme poverty. While caring for her community she comments on new oppression by powerful borough groups and lack of accountability: people are going crazy with this food thing … there’s a lot of money around food …all they want to do is help the ‘poor’ people … they’re doing deliveries, taking selfies and putting it on twitter …  some people are stepping on our heads… others are cashing in on it.” On a part-time London living wage, she finds her own living standards are slipping backwards.

    What will emerge from this crisis? Local authorities will soon be planning their recovery processes. With depleted and finite funds will we see a redefining of ‘vulnerable’; a new means testing for referrals to emergency food aid? We are facing a long recession/depression with increased food poverty, malnutrition and hunger. This is potentially on an unprecedented scale. How will the increased charitisation together with ongoing cuts impact the public health infrastructure and jobs? Who will be providing food for public health? These are important questions for all of us in PHN whether Director of Public Health or unpaid community food bank worker. How we tackle feeding EVERYONE in-need is not just a practical question but a basic ethical one concerning food rights and health equity that requires reconnecting with our communities and schools for grassroots participation in decision-making. Enabling participation requires tackling the material conditions, of work and physical food environments, that underpin health inequalities.

    A weak public health nutrition infrastructure, including diminished community services, contributes to undernutrition, reduced immunity, more illness, more hospital visits. Pre-Covid estimates showed  £200 million could be saved in health and social care spend if greater attention is paid to caring for the nutritional status of vulnerable adults. This would contribute to the inequality seen in the distribution of Covid-19 death rates. Our right to nutritious food is essential to enable our rights to good health and longevity free from illness. To make this a reality, for all, will require fiscal measures that guarantee universal basic living income, that integrates food costs, as well as massive investment in communities and public health nutrition. One among many lessons for how we plan for food and health resilience in times of crisis, is to meaningfully, democratically involve our communities and workforces on the ground.

    Sharon Noonan-Gunning, Registered Dietitian, PhD in Food Policy.

    Caraher M., Furey, S. (2018) The Economics of Emergency Food Aid Provision: A Financial, Social and Cultural Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan. London.

    Lang, T (2020) Feeding Britain: Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them. Pelican Books.

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    US President Donald Trump has said he is taking hydroxychloroquine to ward off coronavirus, despite public health officials warning it may be unsafe.

    Please see this report from Simon Collins at HIV i-Base in the 14 May COVID-19 supplement to HTB (HIV Treatment Bulletin). Here is the report:

    Simon Collins, HIV i-Base

    Several studies have recently reported a lack of benefit from using hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to treat COVID-19, with or without use of azithromycin (AZ). 

    These results challenge a controversial French study reported that an initial benefit that led to more than 100 new studies investigating this potential treatment, including some based in the UK, and despite higher risk of serious side effects.

    The first observational study, published in the NEJM, reported no association between HCQ and intubation or death in 1446 consecutive patients at a single centre in New York from 7 March to 8 April 2020, 70 were excluded due to intubation, death, or discharged within 24 hours.

    In the remaining 1376 patients, 811 (58.9%) received HCQ (600 mg twice on day 1, then 400 mg daily for a median of 5 days) during a median follow-up of 22.5 days.

    Just under half (45%) were treated within 24 hours of admission to ER and 86% within 48 hours. Participants receiving HCQ were more severely ill at baseline. Overall, 346 patients (25.1%) had a primary end-point event (180 patients were intubated, of whom 66 subsequently died, and 166 died without intubation). In the main analysis, there was no significant association between HCQ use and intubation or death (HR: 1.04, 95%CI: 0.82 to 1.32). A small percentage of patients also used tocilizumab or remdesivir. Results were similar in multiple sensitivity analyses.

    Given the observational design and the relatively wide confidence interval, the researchers concluded that their findings did not rule out either benefit or harm of HCQ treatment, but that they also did not support use of HCW outside of a research setting.

    The second report is a retrospective analysis of 368 patients hospitalised with COVID-19 in the US Veterans Affairs hospitals (n=97 HCQ; n=113 HCQ+AZ, n=113; n=158 no HCQ) and published ahead of peer review. [1]

    The two primary outcomes were death and the need for mechanical ventilation and results used propensity scores to calculate adjusted hazard ratios (adj HR) for clinical characteristics.

    Baseline characteristics included median age 70 years (youngest 59), 100% male and 66% black.

    Rates of death were 27.8%, 22.1%, 11.4% and ventilation were 13.3%, 6.9%, 14.1% in the HCQ, HCQ+AZ, and no HC groups, respectively.

    Compared to the no HCQ group, the risk of death from any cause was higher in participants using HCQ (adj. hazard ratio, 2.61; 95% CI: 1.10 to 6.17; p=0.03) but not in the HCQ+AZ group (adj. HR 1.14; 95% CI: 0.56 to 2.32; p=0.72).

    Also compared to the no HC group, the risk of ventilation was similar in participants using either HCQ (adj. HR, 1.43; 95% CI: 0.53 to 3.79; p=0.48) and HCQ+AZ group (ad. HR, 0.43; 95% CI: 0.16 to 1.12; p=0.09),

    These researchers emphasised the importance of results of prospective, randomised, controlled studies before general use of these drugs.

    A third study, ahead of review for Nature Research reported lack of effect from HCQ in vitro and also in macaques. [3]

    The abstract reports that HCQ showed antiviral activity in African green monkey kidney (VeroE6) cells but not in a model of reconstituted human airway epithelium. Also that in macaques, neither HCQ nor HCQ + azithromycin compared to placebo, showed a significant effect on the viral load levels in any of the tested compartments, including before and after peak viral load.

    No benefit was seen when HCQ was tested as a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

    COMMENT

    Of note, none of these studies commented on the use of zinc supplement that is hypothesised to increase likelihood of benefit.

    Many comments posted online about the pre-peer review paper from Geleris et al emphasise the higher rate of hospitalisation in the HCQ group and the limited characteristics for many patients.

    The independent publication Prescrire also failed to find evidence of efficacy in its review of new data on HCQ, following several earlier articles cautioning positive data. [4]

    The FDA have issued a cautioned against the use of HCQ outside of clinical studies due to the risk of cardiovascular toxicity and that strongly recommends close supervision. [5]

     

    References

    1. Geleris J et al. Observational study of hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients with Covid-19. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2012410. (7 May 2020).
      https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2012410
    2. MagagnoliJ et al. Outcomes of hydroxychloroquine usage in United States veterans hospitalized with Covid-19. DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.16.20065920. (23 April 2020).
      https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.16.20065920v2
    3. Maisonnasse P et al. Hydroxychloroquine in the treatment and prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 infection in non- human primates. Nature Research. In Review. (6 May 2020).
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    4. Prescrire. Covid-19 and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil): new data show no evidence of efficacy.
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    5. FDA press releases. FDA cautions against use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems. (24 April 2020).
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    Introduction

    This is the tenth SHA weekly blog on the COVID-19 pandemic. We are at an interesting phase of the pandemic when we are moving from Response to Recovery and uncertain how to navigate the tricky waters without the charts and the data dashboard to guide us.

    We have a government that was ill prepared for the pandemic and has been playing catch up from the early days of denial, then delay and a too early departure from building local systems of community testing, tracing and isolating. We are beginning to hear of possible COVID-19 cases in the UK and neighbouring European countries emerging before Xmas so the virus could have been around longer than we have thought. Even so we wasted precious weeks in February and then had the damaging delay between the 10th March to the 20th March, when lockdown proper started during which time the viral spread had been exponential. We now note that England has one of the highest rates of excess deaths of the 24 European countries analysed by Euromomo.

    Game changers

    The government have, in the turmoil, grasped at ‘game changers’ such as the so called home based antibody blood spot test which was scientifically unproven and nevertheless succeeded in getting the Government to buy 3.5m on ‘spec’. We need to know how much Taxpayers money was wasted on that contract and demand a greater scrutiny on such wild contracts without basic safeguards.

    The next ‘game changers’ were the treatments such as chloroquine, which Trump was allegedly pushing on the NHS to treat Prime Minister Johnson. Again these drugs have been shown to be ineffective and potentially harmful treatments. The US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a caution against its use in COVID-19 on the 30th April! There are other drugs being trialled such as remdesivir and favipiravir and some show promise but need properly conducted clinical trials and not be pushed out too soon by politicians anxious to grab a game changer. Remember the risk of Thalidomide, which was used in early pregnancies with disastrous consequences. We have seen with HIV/AIDS that therapies can be successful in controlling a viral disease but the process takes time and effectiveness trials and safety are paramount.

    The other ‘game changer’ is the vaccine which has always been a long shot because there have never been vaccines developed for Coronaviruses such as SARS or MERS. Other viruses such as HIV have also proved impossible to develop a vaccine for and remember each year the Influenza virus ‘flu jab’ immunisation contains three variants which experts assess are the most likely to be circulating during the coming winter months. The effectiveness of the Influenza vaccine is much less than others such as measles in the highly effective MMR vaccine. Furthermore while there are hopeful signs of successful vaccines being developed and some moving into human trials very early on there needs to be clarity about the time these trials take and the manufacturing process as well as mounting an effective vaccination programme. It is not part of the immediate pandemic control measures and with preventive vaccines you need to be very sure of safety as well as effectiveness. We know how the anti vaxxers mislead the public about risks of vaccination and do not want to damage the high uptake of vaccines across world populations.

    Matt Hancock has during his time as SoS for Health and Social Care promoted digital solutions to many NHS issues including promoting companies who in effect were competing as privateers with NHS primary care (Babylon Health). His latest ‘game changer’ application will be the apps being trialled in the Isle of Wight and others elsewhere to assist in contact tracing.  Big players Apple/Google stand ready with their apps to step in! Of course countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have been using such apps for months and have shown the benefit they confer in the process of Test, Trace and Isolate which the UK government abandoned on March 12th.

    It does seem unbelievable that South Korea has not been subject to lockdown and using testing, tracing and isolation has only had 262 deaths from COVID-19 by the 17th May with a population of 51m people. Their epidemic started several weeks before us and it is not clear what attempts the UK government has made to properly understand their system and learn from it.

    Local Authorities and Public Health

    Local Authority public health capacity has been reduced over the 10 years of Tory austerity and the public health grants reduced in the period leading up to the pandemic. While the Directors of Public Health, through their national body the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADsPH), have been involved with the CMO’s office and Public Health England (PHE) they have not been placed at the centre of the Test, Track and Isolate planning. Again the Government’s default position is to ask their consultancy mates to help design a system from scratch which we have seen with the national testing centres and the Lighthouse laboratories by Deloittes. This is a top down approach rather than a collaborative bottom up development.

    Further work now under a Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) is again focused on the digital app and how the information provided can be analysed and communicated. This has all the tenor of a security service GCHQ venture rather than a public health pandemic response! If the testing roll out is anything to go by there will be major glitches in communications with organisations at the heart of it not receiving information and the people themselves left waiting.

    It seems to us that local public health teams under the DPH leadership should have been involved from the beginning working with Public Health England/Wales/Scotland,  and Environmental Health departments to help facilitate test, track and isolate policies locally. They have not been closely involved since containment was abandoned prematurely across the UK despite wide variations in the spread of the virus at that time.

    The government announced that 18,000 staff will be taken on to work on the national test, trace and track initiative run by SERCO but Local PH departments were not asked to build local teams as part of the local response but prepare to help implement the national response. Primary care has also not been part of the model which is another wasted opportunity of bottom up work using local knowledge effectively. The GP surveillance system has shown its worth over many years with respiratory viruses like Influenza and patients know their GP practice as a trusted point of contact.

    We have seen that COVID-19 has spread across the UK unevenly and a UK wide response designed in Westminster has not been appropriate elsewhere where case numbers may have been very low with risks quite different from metropolitan London, Birmingham and Manchester. Of course there needs to be national leadership in the design and procurement of such an app and Public Health England with their counterparts in the devolved nations be part of the design team. However for it to be an effective system there needs to be local leadership and engagement which builds links between partners and particularly with local primary care teams to use test results and develop the capability of mapping clusters and initiating further local investigations within national case definitions to ensure testing is done, contacts traced and people are isolated swiftly as there is a risk that the virus will persist for weeks to come. There are signs that devolved governments such as in Wales may be approaching this in a more joined up way.

    Social Care

    In earlier blogs we have talked about the vital role that the social care sector plays, how their staff often work in difficult conditions on low pay. The impact of the pandemic now has shifted to this sector, which has 17,000 homes and look after 400,000 elderly or disabled people in need of care. This sector is where many of the excess deaths have been occurring and thanks to statisticians outside government who have signposted the excess deaths measure we know that they have accounted for 20,000 deaths so far. Weekly deaths in care homes have tripled in the past month. In Scotland recently it is estimated that 57% of deaths from COVID now come from deaths in nursing or residential homes.

    We have heard case after case of social care providers not having the PPE they require, having to accept hospital discharges who may have been infectious, not being supported in the way you might expect from external agencies. They have had to introduce infection control policies, which seem inhumane when considering the resident’s end of life experience and the memories of their survivor families. We should have a quick look at the risk assessments/processes to allow named next of kin to visit their relatives and be there at the end of life. It does feel that this is the time to grasp the nettle and create a new National Care Service which is publicly run and which does not require rental payments to ‘off shore’ bodies, who have invested in the land and properties rather than the commitment to care. Not all care homes are owned and run by business interests of course but all suffer from chronic underfunding, staff shortages and service gaps between the NHS and their own provision. The CQC is unable to bridge the gap.

    Moving out of Lockdown

    We are all getting tired of having our lives constrained by lockdown while at the same time pleased at the social solidarity shown by most of the population. The trade unions are quite right to ensure that the workforce is not endangered by a hasty return to work without rounded risk assessments.

    Take the school debate for example. It is relatively easy to look at children themselves and declare that they as an age group have been relatively spared the harms of COVID-19. However we know that they do seem to get the infection and harbour the virus in their noses and throats too. We don’t know how contagious they are but there is obviously a risk and scientific studies are understandably scarce. European countries such as Norway and Denmark have had far less cases and deaths than the UK and have got down to very low levels. For example Norway has had 8,244 cases with 232 deaths and Denmark 10,927 cases with 547 deaths. Their schools have had to implement big changes in the way they mix outdoors and indoors classes and have had to physically distance children in classrooms and for school meals. Halving class sizes seems the likely way we would need to go in the UK which might mean two day sessions which would have huge implications for schools.

    But its not just children! Teachers and school staff are at risk and there needs to be proper occupational health assessments to assess individual risks in the staff. Then there are parents and grandparents who may be involved in bringing children to school and mingling with others at drop off. Children may in turn bring back the virus to the home where there may be vulnerable others living there. So rather than the hurried declaration made to reopen fully on the 1st June there needs to be proper discussion and agreement with trade unions and parents and staff/school Governors on the risk assessment and plans. Remember too that schools have been open during this time for children of essential workers and vulnerable children many of whom have not attended. Oh, by the way, Eton pupils will return to school in September and they already have small class sizes!

    Scrutiny of Public Expenditure

    It is estimated that the Government has now built up £300 billion national debt through its Pandemic investments. The furloughing scheme has been widely welcomed, as has the cancellation of NHS (England) historic debt. However there have been some decisions made by harried Ministers that have been misplaced (such as the home based antibody test) as well as some of the spend on ventilators and Nightingale hospitals when it was already apparent that the NHS was coping somehow with the huge demand on ITU capacity. The decisions to contract out some of the tasks on testing, track and trace have been questionable and the investments in the pharmaceutical industry for vaccine production/drug development need to be scrutinised. Contracts worth more than £1bn have been awarded to 115 private companies dealing with the pandemic, without allowing others to bid for the contract. This has been under fast track rules which suspend normal procedures and include contracts to provide PPE, food parcels, COVId-19 testing and to run operations rooms with civil servants. This latter group includes Deloitte, PWC and Ernst & Young!

    The last thing we want is to be plunged back into austerity at the end of the pandemic. Already we hear of withdrawal from the rough sleepers investment in accommodation before alternative plans are in place and indeed before realistic resurgence in tourism happens. The new normal needs to preserve the advances that have been made. Similarly simple calls for people to drive to work risks the modal shift that is possible towards walking, cycling to work if public transport is deemed too crowded for social distancing. Electric cycles can be promoted for those with further to travel or in hilly areas. The reduction in air pollution while helping the carbon load is still not at levels this year required if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Accord and keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

    The Chancellor and his advisers will be wondering how to get more money into the Treasury. Now is the time to look at a proper wealth tax and to deal with off shore tax avoidance. Dyson tops the Sunday Times Wealth list and remember Sir James moved his head office out of the UK to Malaysia during the Brexit debates. He is sitting on £16.2 billion wealth. The Duke of Westminster has had 300 years in the top spot of property wealth  (£10.3 billion) built on their portfolio of 300 acres of Mayfair and Belgravia (remember the Monopoly Board!). Others in the top 10 include the Coates family who have accrued £7.17 billion through gambling business such as Bet365 and we know the damage to public health that gambling does. Finally lets call out Richard Branson who sought a government subsidy of £500m for his furloughed staff in Virgin Atlantic with his £3.63 billion. He has apparently not paid any personal tax in the UK for 14 years. These super rich need to be taxed on their annual earnings as well on inheritance transfers, which by using Family Trusts subvert the process.

    Finally

    As we think of US billionaire David Geffen on his $590m yacht, who posted on Instagram that he was isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus – lets consider a better fairer future.

    The pandemic can be an opportunity for progressive change to reduce inequalities but we know that there are entrenched and powerful interests. The rich are often supporters of entrenched interests as they benefit from the status quo. In the light of the pandemic they should reflect on how sustainable the status quo really is. We also need to clear set out a new road map for a fairer future.

    17th May 2020

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

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