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    HIV i-Base continue to report on COVID-19 research and treatment as a supplement to HIV treatment research and information.

    Copying and distribution of i-Base infomation is encouraged – and free – but please credit HIV i-Base as source. You can see this Q&A here or read it below:

    Q&A on COVID vaccines: are they safe and effective?

    The following questions were for a community UK-CAB workshop on COVID vaccines. Answers by Angelina Namiba and Simon Collins.

    Are vaccines against COVID-19 effective?

    Yes, any approved vaccine has been very carefully studied in  a wide range of people.

    These first vaccines are highly effective. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines prevent COVID symptoms in 95% of people. They also prevent severe COVID-19.

    These vaccines are much better than first thought possible. Early in 2020, a vaccine would have been approved if it was only 50% effective.

    Which vaccines are being used in the UK?

    The only vaccine that is currently approved in the UK is called BNT162b2.

    It is made by Pfizer/BioNTech. It was approved in the UK on 2 December and in the US on 12 December 2020. A second similar vaccine, developed by Moderna/NIH has just been approved in the US. It will also be approved in other countries too. The EU plans to approve these two vaccines within the next few weeks.

    However, other vaccines are being used in UK studies (see below). These include a vaccine from Oxford University and Astra-Zeneca called ChAdOx1. Another study using a Janssen vaccine is just starting. As new vaccines are approved we will add them to this page.

    Why should I get a vaccine?

    The main reason to get the vaccine is to protect yourself against COVID-19.

    COVID-19 can be deadly – it is much better to be protected. Even people who recover from COVID-19 often have symptoms that last for many months. This is called long COVID and is still being studied.

    If you have been offered the vaccine it is because of your personal level of risk. The vaccine may also protect your friends, family and contacts at work.

    Is my risk high enough to need the vaccine?

    Yes, there is only a limited supply of these vaccines. In the UK, for at least the next few months, you will only be offered the vaccine if your personal risk is high.

    This will be because of your age and your health or because you work in a high risk job.

    Do I have to get the vaccine?

    If the vaccine is for your own health, then this is always still your choice. You do not have to have the vaccine.

    Please talk to your doctor if you have any worries or concerns. Or if you’re unsure about having the vaccine.

    If you are offered the vaccine because of your job, not having the vaccine might affect the work you can do.

    Are vaccines against COVID-19 safe?

    Yes, based on the results from large studies, any approved vaccine will also be very safe.

    For example. the Pfizer vaccine was studied in more than 44,000 people without any serious side effects.

    There are only a few situations when this vaccine needs to been given more carefully. This includes people who have a history of serious allergy reactions to different foods or medicines – as with other vaccines. In this case the vaccine should only be given where there is medical support in case this reaction occurs.

    How do we know the vaccine is safe?

    Technically, no medicine or vaccine can be proved to be safe! This is because we can’t measure safety, we can only measure risk.

    So instead of saying something is safe, it is more accurate to describe the risk. With COVID vaccines we can say there is a very low risk of side effects.

    Compared to the very real risks from COVID-19, using the vaccine is much safer than not using it. This is known from research studies in tens of thousands of people. The studies recorded every side effect or any potential side effect.

    Additional safety data comes after the vaccines are used outside of studies. This will include from people who were not included in the main studies. This led to a caution in people with history of serious allergic reactions (see next Q).

    What if I have a history of allergy reactions?

    As in the question above, even people with a history of serious reactions can still use the vaccine. This includes people who have reactions to vaccines, medicines or foods.

    However, if you currently need to carry an anti-allergy syringe, you need to be vaccinated in a clinic in case a reaction occurs.

    Two health workers in the UK with a history of severe reactions did react to the vaccine. Both people have now recovered. More information will be collected on cases like this.

    Can I develop an allergic reaction to the vaccine?

    Yes, although the risk is small and relates to your history of allergies.

    For the Pfizer vaccine, anyone with a history of severe allergy reactions should have the vaccines in a setting that can safely manage reactions.

    What about if I have immune suppression from HIV or cancer treatment?

    Yes, the vaccine is still recommended if you are HIV positive or if you have cancer. This is because of the high risk from COVID-19.

    Although the leaflet that comes with the vaccine includes talking to your doctor first if you have a reduced immune system, this is not related to a safety of the vaccine. It is because the protection from the vaccine might not be as strong.

    This means that even after both doses of the vaccine, it will still be important to be careful, for example by wearing a mask and social distancing.

    As more people are vaccinated, researchers will look at responses in people who were not widely included in studies.

    What if I have other inflammatory or autoimmune conditions?

    As above, the vaccine is still recommended for people living with inflammatory or autoimmune conditions.

    In this, it is very similar to getting a flu vaccine. Anyone who can use the flu vaccine can use a vaccine against COVID-19.

    These include:

    • Inflammatory rheumatic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, axial spondyloarthritis, lupus).
    • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
    • Psoriasis.
    • Multiple sclerosis.
    • Organ transplant recipients.
    • People on chemotherapy.

    This is because of the high risks from COVID-19.

    Although many people with these and other complications were not directly studied in vaccine studies, there is no safety concern. As above, the caution is that the vaccine might not be quite as effective.

    Ongoing research though will be looking at this.

    Does the vaccine interact with other medicines?

    No. There are no medicines that can not be used with these vaccines. If you are taking other treatment, there is no need to stop this to have a vaccine.

    Although it is good to ask about interactions with current medicines, there are no interactions with the vaccines. If you are worried, it is easy to double-check this with your doctor.

    Your doctor will also know your medical history and whether one type of vaccine might be better for you than another.

    Could the vaccine interact with my HIV meds?

    There are no interactions between the COVID-19 vaccines and HIV meds.

    Will my HIV viral load blip when I have the vaccine?

    Technically though, there is not enough results from HIV positive people in the first vaccine studies to report this yet, though this will be reported later.

    However, based on other vaccines this is unlikely to happen.

    Any vaccine has the potential to increase viral load for a short time. This is the same as to any active infection (including flu and colds).  As with the answer to other questions here, it is okay to approach the COVID vaccination as if it was the annual flu vaccine – which is widely recommended for people living with HIV.

    If your viral load is generally undetectable any increase is likely to be very small. For example, with the flu vaccine, it might increase from less than 50 to maybe 80 or 100 copies/mL – and only for a few days or a week. This is too low to affect the risk of transmission.

    Other vaccines, for example for hepatitis B, don’t cause HIV viral load to blip.

    As a guide, unless you get symptoms from the vaccine, your HIV viral load is likely to stay undetectable. If you get symptoms, any small blip is likely to be undetectable again within a week.

    Can the vaccine interact with estrogen and/or testosterone treatment?

    There are no interactions between the COVID-19 vaccines and estrogen and testosterone.

    Are the vaccines safe in pregnancy?

    Great question. So far there is little data because pregnancy was an exclusion for the main studies. But if you are pregnant, the vaccine is still recommended.

    Also, women will still have become pregnant during these studies – and certainly afterwards. These data will all be collected during the study.

    When these data are available they will be widely publicised.

    Other studies are looking at vaccine responses during pregnancy.

    Are the vaccines safe in children?

    So far vaccines have only been studied in people who are aged 16 and over.

    Further research is planned to look at younger people.

    What is in the vaccine that they are going to offer me?

    None of the COVID vaccines in the UK contain any live viruses. There is no risk of catching coronavirus from the vaccine.

    The active parts of a vaccine though only use a protein from the outside of the coronavirus. Or they tell your boby how to make these proteins.

    This will not cause an infection though.

    Vaccines also include other ingredients that help the vaccine work. For example the Pfizer vaccine contains traces of sodium and potassium. This is sufficiently low to still be called sodium-free and potassium-free.

    It also contains sucrose and this, together with all other ingredients, is listed on the patient leaflet that you get before the injection. This is also online now if you want to check first (see fruther information in the final question).

    How is the vaccine given?

    The Pfizer vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm. A second booster dose is given again, three weeks later. You reach the best protection seven days after the second dose.

    Do I still need to social distance after the vaccine?

    Yes, so far, it is still better to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus.

    A few people might not be protected by the vaccine. We also don’t know how long protection will last. You might also still become infected without symptoms. You could then pass this to other people.

    Even after the vaccine, please continue wearing a mask. Please continue recommendations for social distancing.

    Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

    No. This is easy to answer.

    There is zero risk of getting COVID-19 from the vaccine.

    The vaccines do not contain coronavirus itself.

    What are the symptoms/side effects from the vaccine?

    Most side effects to the Pfizer vaccine were mild or moderate.

    Very common side effects were similar to getting the flu vaccine. They generally got better within a few days. These were reported by more than 1 in 10 people.

    • Pain at injection site.
    • Tiredness.
    • Headache.
    • Muscle pain.
    • Chills.
    • Joint pain.
    • Fever.

    Common side effects included injection site swelling, redness at injection site, and nausea. These were reported in less than 1 in 10 people.

    Uncommon side effects, in less than 1 in 100 people included enlarged lymph glands or just generally feeling unwell.

    Am I going to get sick with the COVID-19 vaccine like the flu jab?

    No necessarily, but maybe. So far the COVID vaccine is similar to getting a flu vaccine. And just like the flu vaccine, the response will vary for different people.

    The question above shows that symptoms are similar to the flu vaccine and are nearly always mild.

    Should I wait to see how people similar to me react first?

    This is a good question – and sounds very reasonable. But within a week or two another 500,000 people will have used the vaccine in the UK.

    Any serious concerns will be reported long before you are likely to be offered the vaccine.

    However, if you are okay leading a very isolated life, then waiting is a choice. But if you still want to interact with people, then waiting will be more risky than having the vaccine now.

    How long will protection last?

    This will only be known with more time. Protection should last for at least a year and hopefully a lot longer. Some vaccines, for example hepatitis B and tetanus only need a boost every ten years.

    Which vaccine is best?

    So far, all the leading vaccines look very good. Getting access to any vaccine now is more important than which vaccine you use.

    What if I already had COVID-19? Does it matter where this was severe or mild?

    People who already had COVID-19 are still recommended to use the vaccine. It doesn’t matter how severe or mild this was.

    Will my GP or HIV doctor give me the vaccine? Can I choose?

    Who gives you the vaccine will depend on which vaccine is being used.

    The Pfizer vaccine will generally be given at health centres or hospitals. This is because of limits in how it can be stored.

    If you are offered a different vaccine in the next month or two, this might be given by your GP. This is early stage for the vaccines but it is unlikely to be your HIV doctor. You are not likely to be able to choose.

    Why should I get the vaccine if the person giving me the vaccines hasn’t had it yet?

    The decision on who gets the vaccine first are decided by an expert advisory group.

    If this group recommends you get the vaccine, then this is because your individual risk makes this important.

    Will the vaccine stop me catching COVID-19? Or just from getting ill? Or maybe both?

    The vaccine will definitely reduce risk of getting ill, but the answer is “probably both”.

    The vaccines are approved because they reduce symptoms of COVID-19.

    The first studies didn’t measure whether people caught coronavirus, just whether they had symptoms of COVID-19.

    Most mild symptoms later confirmed as COVID-19 were in people who didn’t get the vaccine. Importantly, nearly all the most serious cases of COVID-19 were also in people who got the placebo (inactive) injections.

    Technically, some people might still catch coronavirus and be infectious but without symptoms. This is still an ongoing research question.

    Studies with the Moderna and Oxford vaccines include some results showing that the risk of catching coronavirus is also reduced.

    Is the vaccine safe if I have other health problems as well as HIV?

    Yes, vaccines are recommended in people living with HIV and other health problems.

    The more serious your other health problems, the more important it will be to be protected from COVID-19.

    Can I get the vaccine if I have or have had hepatitis C?

    Yes, vaccines are recommended in people living with hepatitis C or who previously had hepC.

    Is the vaccine safe if I use chems like crystal meth, GHB or mephedrone?

    Yes, the vaccines do not interact with drugs used for chemsex.

    However, taking a break from the chems for the week of the vaccine will make it easier to know whether you get any side effects.

    If the social context for using chems means you are having more partners, the protection from the vaccine will be especially important.

    Is the vaccine affected by ethnicity? Will it affect me differently because I’m black/brown?

    No, vaccines studies include people of different ethnicities. They are created for everyone.

    Ethnicity does not affect immune responses or risk of side effects.

    Are black and brown people more at risk of getting side effects?

    No, as with the question above, ethnicity has not been linked to any better or worse outcomes.

    Have vaccine trials included black and brown men and women living with HIV? Or do the findings just relate to the experiences of HIV positive white gay men?

    Unfortunately, most vaccine studies only included very small numbers of people living with HIV. So far, the ethnicity breakdown of the HIV positive group has not been presented. All the HIV positive participants might be black and brown women.

    For example, the Pfizer study with more than 44,000 people only included about 120 people living with HIV. The results did not show that HIV as any impact on how the vaccines work.

    However, there is a lot more data about ethnicity.

    About 10% of the people in the US sites were black or African American. There were no differences in how well the vaccine worked or in side effects compared to the rest of the study population.

    Who approved these vaccines? Were the interests of my community represented?

    Vaccine are approved by the same organisations that approve medicines. They were approved for all people.

    • This is the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK.
    • In Europe it is  the European Medicine Agency (EMA)
    • In the US it is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
    • Other countries and regions have similar organisations.

    Each of these groups is made up of expert advisors who are mainly scientists and doctors but that sometime include community voices.

    The panels are responsible for representing interests of all people who are going to be using these products.

    The FDA is especially open as it publishes the detailed study results online for everyone to read. It also webcasts the meeting that decide on where a vaccine or medicine is approved.

    How do I know I’m being treated equally? How do I know this isn’t experimentation in black people?

    These concerns are very real. Nearly all countries still have structures that are not equal. Many have a history where people were treated differently.

    In the UK, this still affects access to important services that include education and medical care. This is even when there are policies to make access fair.

    However, ethnicity has been linked to higher risk of COVID-19 in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. This actually makes access to the vaccines even more important.

    As all the studies included people from all ethnicities. There is good data to show they are at least as safe and effective.

    COVID vaccines will be offered to people of all ethnicities. As has been seen in the news all ethnicities have the choice to use the vaccine.

    If the government didn’t protect me from coronavirus, why should I trust them with the vaccine?

    Perhaps luckily, the government are not directly involved in either producing the vaccines or in running the studies that look at how well they work.

    The government is also not directly involved in deciding which vaccines are approved.

    Whether or not you use any medicine or vaccine is a decision that you make with your doctor as an individual.

    I’ve experienced racism in the health system and receiving HIV care. How can you tell me this won’t be the same?

    I am sorry for any previous experiences within the NHS. I am also sorry if you have not been treated fairly in the past.

    Although I can not guarantee this will not happen again, there is a lot of information about how to deal with this.

    I can however provide information on COVID-19 and the vaccines. This shows that the benefits of the vaccine so far are much greater than the risks from not getting the vaccine.

    Why did we get a COVID-19 vaccine so quickly, but there is still no vaccine for HIV?

    There are two answers here.

    The practical answer is that the threat from COVID-19 were so serious that many more resources became available. The urgency of COVID-19 led to a larger budget – and luckily, this has been more effective than anyone first hoped.

    A more technical scientific answer is coronavirus is relatively stable. Unlike HIV the structure of the proteins doesn’t change and so a vaccine based on these proteins with continue to work.

    HIV is still a more difficult virus to overcome because it makes small changes every day. So HIV vaccines that might work very well on Monday will be out-of-date on Friday because of these small changes.

    HIV does have at least 30 approved treatments. These enable to lead long and health lives.

    There are many other infections where we also need new vaccines. Hopefully the advances for COVID-19 will help for other vaccines.

    If vaccines are now available, should I still join a study?

    This is an important question because other vaccines are still being studied.

    In the UK this includes a vaccine from Oxford University and Astra-Zeneca called ChAdOx1.

    Another study is due to start using a vaccine from Janssen.

    Joining one of these studies might let you get a vaccine before you are offered on from the NHS.

    If you do get offered an NHS vaccine after joining a study, you can still use the approved one. The study will tell you whether or not you got the active vaccine. The researchers can also study your response to the second vaccine.

    In practice, new studies will hopefully look at switching between different vaccines.

    If the vaccine is lifesaving, why is not available to everyone in the world?

    You are right, for a vaccine to be really effective, everyone will need to use it. This includes in all countries.

    Many organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have been working all year to also make access fair.

    For example, the international COVAX programme is aiming to vaccinate two billion people during 2021. This includes more than 100 low and middle income countries including across Africa, Asia and South America.

    So optimistically, at some point, everyone will have access.

    In practice, high income countries that could afford the first commercial vaccines have bought most of the first stock.

    But some of the next stock during 2021 – and more importantly newer vaccines – will be available for the COVAX programme. This might not be until later in 2021 and 2022 though.

    Where can I get more information?

    The following links are to different sources for more information.

    i-Base run an information service if you have individual questions that you would like answered.
    https://i-base.info/qa

    i-Base report news about COVID-19 treatment and vaccines in a monthly bulletin.
    https://i-base.info/htb

    British HIV Association (for information about HIV and COVID-19).
    https://www.bhiva.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19

    UK patient information leaflet for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
    (PDF)

    FDA 50-page document with detailed results on Pfizer vaccine.
    https://www.fda.gov/media/144245/download

    YouTube website to watch the US CDC hearings for COVID vaccines
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvrp9iOILTQYiZunwmtiIRt52poVP8D02

    Article on why vaccine is recommended for people with immune suppression and autoimmune conditions.
    https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/942853

    Website for WHO COVAX programme for global access.
    https://www.who.int/initiatives/act-accelerator/covax

    The People’s Vaccine – a collaboration of large charities including Oxfam.
    https://www.oxfam.org/en/tags/peoples-vaccine

    Leave a comment

    The NHS are running a survey on Integrated Care – your views.

    The link to the NHS  Consulation Hub is below.

    https://www.engage.england.nhs.uk/survey/building-a-strong-integrated-care-system/

    Many thanks to David Taylor-Gooby of the North East branch for bringing this to our attention.

    3 Comments

    We  are  writing to you in response to the apparently hurried decision to begin population-wide testing in Liverpool, as part of the £100 + billion ‘Operation Moonshot’, in order to “find positive cases and to break chains of transmission” (Government Press Release, 3rd November 2020).

    This announcement is inconsistent with the SAGE advice at its 56th meeting on 10 September 2020 that it had “high confidence” that “Prioritising rapid testing of symptomatic people is likely to have a greater impact on identifying positive cases and reducing transmission than frequent testing of asymptomatic people in an outbreak area”. This chimes with WHO guidance to focus on contact tracing and identification of clusters, and which does not recommend mass screening.  Proposals for mass screening in their current form will undermine this priority.  

    Searching for symptomless yet infectious people is like searching for needles that appear transiently in haystacks. The potential for harmful diversion of resources and public money is vast. Also of concern are the potential vested interests of commercial companies supplying new and as yet inadequately evaluated tests. If the programme is to proceed, then the contracts awarded, or advertised, should be made public, including their cost to the public purse. (The government is already facing a judicial review for failing to publish covid-19 contracts, brought by your fellow MPs Debbie Abrahams, Layla Moran and Caroline Lucas with the Good Law Project.)

     There is currently no evidence demonstrating that SARS-CoV-2 screening can bring benefit cost-efficiently, and experience shows that unless screening is delivered as a systematic programme with quality assurance for every step of the pathway then any theoretical benefit will not be realised in practice, even where a benefit is possible.

    We would like to ask you what has been decided, and how were decisions reached, regarding the types of tests to be used, what exactly are they aiming to detect, and how has their accuracy been evaluated?  We understand that the Liverpool pilot is likely to use a direct LAMP test (Optigene) and a lateral flow assay (Innova). Currently there is little or no evidence of the accuracy of either of these tests from their use in presymptomatic and asymptomatic cases, or in field settings.  There is substantial uncertainty as to whether they can detect the lower viral loads that are likely in symptomless people, which appears to be the aim of this mass pilot.  If the tests fail to detect cases, then the programme will waste resources and time, and give people false reassurance which could increase transmission.   Similarly, the false positive rates of these tests have not been established in community use and neither have the implications for contact tracing services.  Evaluations of other similar tests by the WHO has suggested between 1% and 5% of people without infection may get false positive findings.  This means that if 1 in 100 people tested in the pilot have asymptomatic infections, as few as 1 in 5 of those getting positive results will actually have Covid-19 – and 4 out of 5 would be false positives and they and their contacts would unnecessarily be told to isolate.

    The accuracy of tests for identifying symptomless infection in a healthy population need to be evaluated in a pilot study with proper research design to assess the extent to which asymptomatic people contribute to overall case-loads, whether they play a significant role in transmission, and whether screening can help. We see no evidence that the Liverpool has such a research design.

    It appears unclear what will happen when people test positive, and negative, whether there will be clinical oversight in interpretation of the results and whether the results will be sent to patients’ GPs and integrated with medical records. What will people be offered? What will they be instructed to do? What support structures are in place to achieve this? It is also unclear how this programme will be integrated into, and affect, the track and trace system, which is already performing poorly.

    Are all the above considerations documented in a format suitable for the lay public to understand as part of an opt-in informed consent process? Is there an option to withdraw from the scheme at any stage, including freeing people of any study requirements? Are participants afforded the right to access their information, to know with whom it is being shared, and to request its deletion – in line with GDPR and the Data Protection Act?

    These are just some of the questions and issues that are concerning us and that need to be pursued, along with asking the government to explain why they are acting inconsistently with SAGE’s advice. We urge you to do so as soon as possible.

    If we can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

    Yours sincerely,

    Allyson Pollock

    Professor of Public Health, Newcastle University

    Anthony J. Brooks

    Professor of Genomics and Bioinformatics, Leicester University

    Louisa Harding-Edgar, General Practitioner and Academic Fellow in General Practice. Glasgow University

    Angela E. Raffle, Consultant in Public Health, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Public Health, Bristol Medical School Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol

    Stuart Hogarth, Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.

    Comments Off on Asymptomatic Covid-19 screening in Liverpool

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

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

    1. Austerity (2010-2020)

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

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

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

    1. Poor political leadership (PM and SoS Health)

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

    1. Social care

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

    1. Inequalities

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

    1. Privatisation

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

    1. Recovery Planning

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

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

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

    NHS and NIHR

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

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

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

    A wealth tax?

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

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

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

    Populism and COVID

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

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

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

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

    27.7.2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Altogether, the BMA is calling for action to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Oliver Fry

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

    Posted on behalf of the BMA by Jean Hardiman Smith

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    At a time of heightened public interest in the future of social care, what would be the way forward guided by the principle of social justice? Some of it is in plain view and takes the form of immediate funding shortfalls. The only issue is the political will to find the money. Important as these issues are, their resolution will do nothing to redress what many believe is the most painful injustice of all. The system used to identify ‘need’ and allocate resources – based on the eligibility ‘needs test’ –  is not only inherently inequitable but works in a way that deprives the individual of the control over their lives essential to us all for our dignity, self worth and wellbeing. The system built around the needs test is obscure to the public and has no public appeal. It need be no surprise that social care cannot muster the political will to address the more obvious funding shortfalls.

    For a truly socially just system the ‘needs test’ must be abolished and replaced with a system that manages the tension between needs and resources very differently. This will not require more money. But it will require political will and the intellectual effort for new thinking.

    The immediate funding issues

    Before considering the needs test, it may be worth reflecting on the immediate funding issues.

    The issue presently uppermost in the public mind is the undervaluing of care staff. With something like 1 million care staff, every pound an hour they are paid will cost about £1.8BN

    Not far behind that in the public mind, and with a political head of steam developing to do something about it, is the means test. It results in the unfairness of the ‘dementia tax’, of people having to sell their houses to pay for care, and of as many people funding their own care or going without as receive state support.

    There are two proposals to reform the means test. One is the idea of the ‘care cap’ – a lifetime limit to how much an individual would have to pay in charges. Introduced by the Dilnot Commission in 2011, it is estimated this would cost in the region of £3BN. The other is to make all ‘personal care’ free as in Scotland. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee favours this and costed it at £7BN last year.

    A third would be to simply abolish the means test altogether (or charge only the ‘hotel costs’ of a residential care placement which was the very limited intention when the means test was introduced by the Attlee Government in 1948). The cost would likely to be somewhere nearer to £15BN.

    There would be some good news for the Treasury from a system driven by social justice. It would surely bring an end to public companies raking in excess profits. Research by the Centre of Public Health Information established that some £1.5BN is leaked out of the residential care market in this way. That amounts to some 10% of the value of the residential care sector.

    The gross spend on social care is currently £20BN. Addressing the means test and paying a fair price for care to ensure care workers are properly remunerated could potentially double that. But doing all of this would be leave the fundamental nature and character of the service unchanged.

    The eligibility needs test

    A founding principle of the NHS was that need will precede resource and that the resource would be publicly funded.  This has arguably been the principle that, whatever its faults, has made the NHS an enduring beacon of social justice.

    However, when it came to the care of older and disabled people this principle was reversed. The priority of the Attlee government was to end the grave injustice of the institutionalisation of older and disabled people in workhouses. Poor Law Boards would be abolished and responsibility transferred to Local Authorities. But when asked in Parliament what Local Authorities would actually do, the Minister for Health replied ‘as much as our resources will allow’.

    Surely unintended, this had two devastating consequences. It implicitly put care of older and disabled people at the back of the queue for public resources, leading it to its Cinderella status. Secondly, it reversed the polarity of needs and resources. Instead of need determining resource, resource would determine need.

    The modern manifestation of the principle is the concept of ‘eligibility criteria’. The justifying theory is that there is a body of ‘needs’ for care and support that can be applied to any and all. Application by all councils of the same ‘eligibility criteria’ will ensure fairness and equity. It’s a theory that has superficial appeal. It is unchallenged. All councils claim to be delivering the National Eligibility Criteria (currently established under the Care Act of 2014).

    It is, however, a myth without mitigation. In a system where need must be determined by resource, it’s the local resources that must be the driver. The ‘eligibility’ decision must be localised to local budgets. National criteria are irrelevant.  They are, indeed, written in a way that makes the key decisions meaningless. This is necessary for local discretion.

    Not only is this localism logically the case, the empirical evidence leaves little room for doubt. Councils report annually on how many people they support and the amount they spend in doing so. Dividing one by the other – which government reports do not do – gives the average spend per person. Once adjusted for regional price differences, this surely gives the best measure of equity. The highest spending councils in 2018/19 spent an average of £22.7K and the lowest £12.9K – an astonishing 70% difference.

    This is no random unevenness that can be explained away as the uniqueness of communities served. There is a clear pattern. Deprivation of communities served is the key factor. The means test results in the most affluent communities serving 50% fewer people per head of population than councils serving the most deprived communities. Councils spending the most can spread the jam much more thickly. The highest spending councils serve communities significantly more affluent than the lowest.

    So to the inequity is added injustice.

    The damage does not end there. The eligibility process works by standardising ‘need’. Standardisation cannot be made to fit with the highly individual nature of the lived experience of need. Needs arise from the complex interplay of a host of factors each of which are themselves highly variable. It has become a modern cliché that each person is ‘expert in their own needs’. The cliché is reduced to lip service when delivered in a system which allows the person to express only ‘wishes’ while the council determines their ‘needs’. It’s infantilising. It is inaccurate as a way to identify need and therefore inefficient.

    Failure in delivery of the principle must not be allowed to dim the importance of the principle that individuals are indeed the best experts in their own needs. Their view of their needs should prevail subject only to their view making best use of resources to enable them to have their best level of wellbeing.

    There will be a dividend for the Treasury.  The greater accuracy of the assessment will mean much greater for value for money from the resource made available. The sector itself believes, although wrongly ascribing blame on poor social work practice, that the current eligibility driven system wastes significant levels of resource through poor use of resources.

    Why does the eligibility needs test persist?

    The needs test has survived since 1948 and defeated countless attempts at transformative change of social care. These include the Community Care reforms of the 1990’s and the more recent personalisation strategy.

    Why is it so enduring? Again, the answer is plain. It serves two political expedients. Firstly it keeps spending to budget, no matter the real need. Secondly, it ensures there is never any record of unmet need. This is important because, in contrast to the NHS where growing waiting lists in the NHS creates political pressure, there is no equivalent in social care. Sir Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health and Social Care told the Public Accounts Committee, who wanted to know how much funding social care needed, told them that councils had all the money they required to meet their responsibilities under the Care Act. What he didn’t say was that would be true no matter the size of the budget or the level of real need.

    What will it take to abolish the needs test?

    One obvious answer is to guarantee funding will meet all needs to ensure all have the quality of life they can reasonably expect. But the uniqueness of individual needs and the huge variability in the cost of meeting them would mean social care could have to be delivered on an ‘open cheque’ basis. No public service, not even the highly valued NHS, enjoys that. Credibility demands that strategies assume social care will continue to be delivered within a budget not likely to meet all needs. Success is to be measured by the smallness of the gap between needs and resources.

    Can the needs test be abolished in a budgeted system?

    The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. ‘Need’ must be identified in the context of securing the quality of life reasonable for each older and disabled person to expect through. The resources must make the best use of resources but without regard to what happens to be available. The United Nations definition of Independent Living provides a ready made standard of wellbeing to adopt. This would put the UK in the forefront internationally. From that point, decisions must be made as to how many each of those needs the council can afford to meet. Spending will be controlled to budget. However, it no longer be through eligibility of need but by affordability of need.

    The law, through the Care Act, has already made this possible. It provides for ‘need’ to be assessed against 9 dimensions of wellbeing. These dimensions are synonymous with Independent Living. The Act also creates the legal conditions to enable councils to say if they can or cannot afford to meet need. None of these provisions are currently being used. They are being ignored by councils as, under the influence of the Government’s Statutory Guidance to the Act, they are perpetuating a localised eligibility process.

    In February the Labour opposition in Barnet put forward a 4 point plan to replace eligibility of need with affordability of need as the means to control spending. This was to ensure the assessment process was able always to put the person and their welllbeing at the heart of their assessment process and to ensure the Council would be aware of any gap in funding between needs and resources. The Conservative administration rejected the proposal. They believed the Council was already delivering the Care Act and its wellbeing principle, that resources never interfere with the assessment of need, and that choice always determines what people received. The Labour group is currently testing the veracity of those claims.

    Will the needs test be abolished?

    The key issue is political will. The gap between needs and resources will be publicly exposed. What waiting times do for the NHS in creating political pressure, unmet need will do for social care. Political leaders will have to leave behind the comfort the eligibility system has provided them. The greater the funding gap given authenticity through deriving from the aggregated lived experience of need, the greater the political discomfort. But it can be expected the public narrative will shift from what ‘social care’ requires to what older and disabled people require. Few people understand or care about the former, but many are likely to about the latter. Currently councils are seen as visionless machines, employing what Tracey Lazard of Inclusion London (a network of disabled peoples’ organisations) describes as ‘dark arts’ to ensure the system’s delivery under cover of misleading public messages. Councils will be on the side of the older and disabled people they serve, free to promote public understanding of the real needs within their communities.

    Insofar as public sentiment drives political will, social care will stand a much improved chance of securing the funding it truly requires.

    Conclusion

    The needs test, and all its attendant ills, is the unintended legacy of what was otherwise a great reforming Labour government. Although understandable in the context of the 1940’s, rectification is long overdue. There is a clear moral argument that it falls to Labour to ensure it happens.

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

    Blame Game

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

    Local Authorities and their Public Health teams

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

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

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

    Local data

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Workers and Employers

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

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

    Civil servants

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

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

    National Audit Office

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

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

    Vaccines and global health

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

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

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

    Gramsci

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

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

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

    20.7.2020

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

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    Week 18

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

    Facemasks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sharing Test Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Don’t blame PHE and the NHS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Clap Clap.

    13.7.2020

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

    2 Comments

    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

    Comments Off on SHA COVID-19 Blog 16

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

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

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

    BAME

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

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

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

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

    Test and Trace

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

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

    The app!

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

    PPE contracts

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

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

    And finally

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

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

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

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

    Hear hear.

    22.6.2020

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

    Comments Off on SHA COVID-19 Blog 15

    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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