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

    Blame Game

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

    Local Authorities and their Public Health teams

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

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

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

    Local data

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Workers and Employers

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

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

    Civil servants

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

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

    National Audit Office

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

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

    Vaccines and global health

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

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

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

    Gramsci

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

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

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

    20.7.2020

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

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    Week 18

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

    Facemasks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sharing Test Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Don’t blame PHE and the NHS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Clap Clap.

    13.7.2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Issue: 98

    17 May 2020

    The UK Now Has the 4th Highest Covid-19 Death Rate in the World

    Deaths/Million of Population

    UK: 495

    Some countries which are much more densely populated than the UK have much lower Covid-19 deaths/million rates. These include Bangladesh (2), South Korea (5), India (2) and Israel (31). (Source Worldometer, 14 May 2020).

    Why has this happened? Who is responsible? Is new leadership now required in the UK?

    Covid-19 Care Commissioning/Purchasing/Supply Chaos

    Clinical Commissioning Groups, NHS Trusts, NHS England, Local Authorities, care homes and now DHSC/eBay are all purchasing Covid-19 supplies including PPE.

    Where is the control? Where is the order? Where is the leadership?

    On 1 May 2020, somewhat belatedly, The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) apparently wrote to all NHS Trusts stopping them from purchasing supplies. This includes PPE. I’m sure NHS Trusts are not intentionally stupid. They have been buying PPE themselves because the DHSC/NHS England/CCGs were not commissioning/purchasing/supplying PPE!

    The latest supply channel is a joint venture between DHSC and the shopping and auction site eBay. The venture is very new and according to ’Health Service Journal – on 6 May 2020 had supplied just 400,000 PPE items to only 1,400 of the 58,000 UK care service suppliers.

    Ealing Council Leader Julian Bell is alleged to have announced in a Unite Zoom meeting on 12 May 2020 that Ealing Council had been successful in purchasing PPE for four West London Councils’ ‘local care services’. Following recognition of this, Councillor Bell said the Council would soon be the purchaser of all PPE for all London Councils’ local care services. All this seems quite odd when one considers that the vast proportion of care/nursing homes are privately owned. Shouldn’t the owners of the homes be expected to provide PPE for their staff? Surely the same logic applies to the vast proportion of domiciliary care staff who are employed by private companies – their employers should surely provide them with PPE, not Local Authorities.

    On 15 May 2020 ‘The Guardian’ reported on the shambles at the Government’s outsourced PPE depot run by Movianto. Apparently PPE equipment was being stored in a smoke damaged Merseyside warehouse found to contain asbestos. In late March 2020 the Government ordered Movianto to begin distribution of the £500 million PPE stock. However, because of poor management and staff sickness progress was slow, errors were made and as demand grew apparently it became chaotic. The army was called in to sort it out. It didn’t help that during this period the American parent company sold Movianto to a French company. Questions are being asked as to why DHL lost the contract in 2018 and why Movianto, a loss making company for every year since 2010, had managed to win the £10.5 million/year contract.

    Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) Claim Government’s Approach to Them for Covid-19 Has Been ‘Top-down, Uncommunicative and Controlling’

    There are apparently 42 LRF’s in England and Wales. They have been tasked by Government to respond to Covid-19. A review by Whitehall, revealed in ‘Municipal Journal’, is very critical of the Government. The leaked report cited withholding vital data and intelligence on the progress of Covid-19. Research was carried out by Nottingham Trent University for the C-19 Foresight Working Group – a cross-party Government committee.

    Local Resilience Forums – which most people have probably never heard of – were introduced in 2004 in the Civil Contingency Act to provide the means to those involved in preparedness to collaborate at a local level. There is just one LRF in London (serving 9 million residents!) and it’s based at the London Fire Brigade, London SE1.

    Will the Government Mishandle Covid-19 Local Testing/Contact Tracing/Isolation/Quarantining?

    Sadly this is likely.

    Public Health Professor Allyson Pollock at Newcastle University and a member of the King Independent SAGE team has on numerous occasions emphasised that the Covid-19 national epidemic is not homogeneous. It is in fact hundreds or thousands of local Covid-19 outbreaks that are active in this country – all at different stages of ‘diffusion’.

    The key to contact-tracing is local knowledge and meticulous research on the ground. This suggests using Local Authority resources, GPs and the myriad of volunteer groups which already exist in all towns and villages throughout England.

    Allegedly Government outsourcer Serco has assembled/is assembling 15,000 tracers (Call Centre staff?) and 3,000 clinical support staff (recent NHS retirees?). ‘Health Service Journal’ reported on 13 May 2020 that much of the national test centre data/results were not being shared with GPs and Local Authorities. Will Deloitte who run these national test centres hand this test data to Serco?

    Yet another ex-McKinsey & Co employee is joining the fray and in a top position too. Baroness Dido Harding has been appointed leader of the Government’s Covid-19 Test and Trace Taskforce.  Her stint at McKinseys was in the 1980s. However she became notorious for her performance when CEO of TalkTalk for seven years. Her handling of a cyber attack resulted in losses of £60 million, four million customer accounts allegedly hacked, and a loss of 95,000 customers.  Baroness Harding also seems to have kept her role as Chair of NHS Improvement. Maybe with the merger of NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSI), the NHSI Chair’s role is effectively redundant.

    The Government’s (as yet unnamed) contact-tracing App is still on trial on the Isle of Wight. If it ‘fails’ – on ethical or technical grounds – the Apple/Google App, being used in Europe, is waiting in the wings. And, according to ‘The Times’ of 14 May 2020, there are 43 Covid-19 contact tracing Apps in use worldwide.

    National Audit Office (NAO) Describes £8.1 Billion NHS IT/Digital Transition Spending as Inadequate and Confused

    • 54% of NHS Trusts reported that their staff could not rely on digital records.

    • NAO recommends spending 5% of the total annual NHS budget on IT/digital transformation. NHS is spending 2%.

    • Interoperability between new and legacy systems, especially with repeated changes in national strategies has created a fragmented environment.

    • NHS management of digital transformation at a national level is confused.

    A New Post Covid-19 Healthcare Plan Being Hatched for London

    ‘Urgent Action: System Plans for London’ is the title of a 29 April 2020 leaked memo to the five London Integrated Care System (ICS) Chairs and Senior Responsible Officers (SROs). The author is Sir David Sloman, NHS London Regional Director.

    The memo asked all these bosses to rapidly review their ICS plans in terms of new Cocid-19 challenges and future care strategies. It also asks them to report against 12 expectations contained in a ‘Journey to a New NHS‘ paper along with a set of slides. They had to reply by 11 May 2020. Why the rush one wonders?

    The backdrop to all this is multifarious. Firstly in terms of previous plans we have at least the October 2019 ‘London Vision’, the January 2019 national ‘Long Term Plan’, and the November 2017 ‘London Care Devolution’, and the five London regional October 2016 ‘Sustainability & Transformation’ Plans. In terms of statutory significance the ICSs have no legitimacy at all. In fact in at least one London region (NHS North West London) its ICS will not be formally born until 1 April 2021. (In NHS NWL for example, the only statutory legitimacy lies with the eight CCGs. Ealing’s CCG is strangely quiet at the moment. The last we heard from the Collaboration of the 8 CCGS was that all but Hillingdon CCG were ‘partnering’ with other CCGs. No doubt they are all trying to reduce their combined 2018/19 annual ‘employee benefits’ of some £10 million).

    A bit more NHS NWL flavour here is also relevant. In May 2019 NHS NWL outlined there would be 8 ‘Place Teams’, 8 ‘Local Committees’ and 8 Integrated Care Parnerships (ICPs). One year on, one wonders what’s happened to plans for them? Or is planning and strategy a London-wide only approach now?

    It really does seem an age away in 2013 when NHS bosses were preaching about local commissioning, by local GPs with local knowledge. Their bible then was the 2012 Health & Social Care Act – which ominously is the existing legislation that is being blatantly ignored in spirit and possibly in actuality.   

    Now to the content of the memo. A quick glance at the 12 expectations:

    1. How are you going to deal with non-Covid-19 acute elective and non-elective work? In other words how are NHS Trusts going to carry out the jobs they are paid to do?
    2. A consolidation and strengthening of specialist services. Cancer, paediatrics, renal, cardiac and neurosurgery listed. Does this suggest mergers and closures?
    3. Increase web, telephone and video triage. Never mind the quality – it’s cheaper than actually having to travel from home and meet a patient in a clinical ’setting’.
    4. How will you separate emergency Covid-19 from emergency ‘other’. (Given that some emergency other patients are locked into the ‘stay at home’ paradigm and think NHS UCCs and A&E units are awash with the Covid-19 virus).
    5. Develop virtual by default Primary Care and Outpatients. See 3.
    6. Minimise inpatient length of stay and faster Delayed Transfer of Care. See NHS NWL ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’ case study – seven years and £1.3 billion spend made little progress on this minimalisation.
    7. Address health inequalities – see similar unmet aspirations like Climate Emergency and clean drinking water for all the 7.7 billion inhabitants in our world.
    8. Same expectation as in 2.
    9. Merge corporate support services and clinical support services. Cost savings here.
    10. A workforce plan. Good luck with that one. Too few doctors, nurses, consultants, mental health staff at all levels, and too few support staff. Too many commissioners.
    11. A plan to ‘join together’ NHS institutions and Local Authorities. With different business models, goals, budgets, culture, politics and a shared desire not to open up financial books to each other – little progress on this front visible over the last seven years. No mention of ‘Integrated Care Partnerships’.
    12. Public engagement including ‘deliberate’ forums (e.g. NHS NWL 4,000 EPIC hand-picked sounding board – which is an attempt at regularly polling a representative sample of the 2.4 million NWL patients).

    Revenue and capital cost estimates were asked for. A three phase implementation over 18 months was proposed. But the NHS never meets its timescale projections. A new bit of jargon emerged – ‘London Vision the Touchstone’…….

    The 32 London boroughs commission all London’s social care. However it’s clear from comments heard from the London Borough’s of Ealing and Hammersmith that they have not been asked to comment on these NHS ‘Systems Plans for London’. Yet another painful example of the long running disconnect between healthcare and social care.

    A final postscript on NHS London supremo Sir David Sloman. Google can’t find anything about his life prior to 2009. In 2017 he was admonished by the Government’s data protection agency for illegally giving details on 1.6 million patients to Google Deep Mind.

    Is the Care/Nursing Home Business Model Broken Beyond Repair?

    Most care/nursing homes in England are privately owned. There are 17,000 nursing and residential care homes in England housing 400,000 people (NHS England, 2019). A lot of homes are part of care groups both small (e.g. Abbey Healthcare) and large (e.g. Four Seasons). Some are run by charities (e.g. St David’s, Castlebar Hill, W5). Care is commissioned by Local Authorities (LAs). The homes are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Each home has a contract with a local GP practice. Many GP practices are commissioned by NHS England (NHSE). Some GP practices (e.g. the 75 in Ealing) are commissioned by the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Where local CCGs have been replaced by regional Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) could it be that the succeeding ICS is the commissioner? For over two years now the Department of Health has had social care responsibilities – so the DHSC has overall responsibilities for care/nursing homes. The care/nursing home acronym soup or tangled spaghetti looks like LAs, CQC, GPs, NHSE, CCG, ICS, DHSC.

    ‘Reuter’s’ data analysis up to 1 May 2020 shows at least 20,000 excess deaths in care homes in England and Wales during the pandemic. Is it any wonder then that when the Covid-19 history books are written one of the most painful chapters will be on unnecessary care/nursing home deaths.

    Eric Leach

    Silver Voices

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    Introduction

    The SHA has produced a weekly Blog on the Covid-19 pandemic for the past 2 months. In these Blogs we have looked at many issues but the overriding finding is that the UK Government has been much too slow in responding to the pandemic, which has cost lives, stressed the NHS and severely damaged the economy. We are now one of the countries in Western Europe with the worst outcome in terms of reported deaths and deaths/million population.

    This is a scandal, and as we have learned more about the background to the response we learnt about the emergency scenario planning exercise in 2016 Operation Cygnus (Swan flu). This exercise, which involved the devolved nations and over 900 participants, made recommendations on the need for more PPE to be stored, more ITU ventilators to be procured for an enhanced ITU provision and robust planning for the social care sector which was at risk of being overwhelmed. The recommendations seem to have been largely ignored by the Tory government during its declared policy of disinvesting in the public sector and the policies of economic austerity. At that time Boris Johnson was a senior Cabinet Minister as Foreign Secretary and Jeremy Hunt, now Chair of the Health Select Committee, was Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Who will take responsibility for not acting on the advice?

    The other issue that has become even more obvious is that public services such as the NHS have been starved of resources over the 10 years of austerity and while the service has made an extraordinary response to the pandemic it is against the background of poor capital investment and major staffing pressures such as medical and nurse staff vacancy levels. Similarly the Local Government sector has been pared down during the Tory years with massive disinvestment, floating State Education to unaccountable Academies and Free Schools, and running down many of its former functions including environmental health and trading standards. Local Authorities who have been driven to cut services and their budgets year on year are now being asked to stand up and take responsibility in an emergency while also trying to cope with the social care scandal. It sticks in the throat to hear government Ministers speak appreciatively about public sector workers, often in low paid jobs, who they have in the past criticised as a burden on the taxpayer.

    In this week’s blog we want to raise the issues about re-building the public health system so it can run the test, trace and isolate campaign from neighbourhood, local authority population, region, nation and central government. We are also concerned about the evidence of further privatisation using the Covid Trojan Horses and the excellent examples from other countries about how they have handled the pandemic successfully and published coherent plans to get out of their lockdowns.

    Test, track and trace, and isolate

    Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been calling for Covid-19 to be contained by using tried and tested public health measures of communicable disease control. Even without access to swab testing of suspected cases local public health workers would be able to establish whether someone was a suspected or probable case from taking the history of their illness. With swab testing this would convert the suspected/probable case to become a confirmed case and the local public health team would build their information base and start to map out the spread of the infection in their locality. Notifiable disease works in this way and at the start of the pandemic this could have been done in all areas. Contact tracing and recording demographic details as well as presenting symptoms would have built up a local picture of the manifestations of the infection, the demographic details and travel histories involved.

    A history of fever and continuous dry cough would have been sufficient to be a suspected case. It was a serious error to not start contact tracing and local notification in all areas to build up the knowledge and skills of local PH teams. Obviously when community spread became overwhelming such detailed work on contact tracing might reduce but a local record of test positive cases should have continued to be built us. Laboratory test results are still collected but this should have fed into the local teams databases. The variation in new cases and deaths across the UK has been very marked and in some areas this task would have been comparatively easy to sustain and in the process train new people under the watchful eye of experienced Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) supported by their Local Authority based public health colleagues.  Expert advice obtained from Laboratories and Public Health England would support the local teams under the leadership of Directors of Public Health (DsPH). Similar networks exist in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    The reason for spelling this out at this stage of the pandemic is that at long last the government have rumbled that testing, tracing and isolating is part of the strategy to get out of the blunt tool of total societal lockdown. South Korea’s success was wholly dependent onrigorous testing including basic approaches being supplemented by mobile phone data and other digital systems. They have shown how they can monitor community infections and step in quickly to contain new cases as they arise. They did not have to resort to society lockdown and their economy has continued to function – as well as coping with voting in a general election during this time.

    To get testing scaled-up from its hospital base, the government has defaulted to their prior preferences and have turned to their friends in the private sector: Deloittes, Serco, G4S and Sodexo.  Rather than building local public health teams in Local Government and enhancing PHE reach from their regional organisations, we now have a mix of inexperienced private contractors. So rather than start the process of using the pandemic to re-establish public health capacity locally and regionally we see short-term contracts with the private sector. These private contractors are advertising for contact tracers at £8.72/hr. Sodexo, which is running many of the Covid-19 drive-through testing centres with minimal staff with clinical experience, are paying testers £13.50 /hr and trainers £17.50 /hr and all jobs are offered on a casual basis.

    These political decisions have already led to communication problems with poor reporting back to primary care and PHE, and who knows how, or whether, the data will be integrated into the system in a consistent and reliable way? To everyone’s astonishment, pop-up testing pods appear in local areas without anyone knowing that they were planned, and samples then have to be sent to the USA (yes the USA) to be tested when really results should be back quickly, and within 2 days to be useful. This is a huge lost opportunity to try and re-establish public sector public health services from local to regional levels and so build system resilience and independence rather than inexperienced private sector for profit organisations.

    Privatisation – the Trojan Horses

    The privatisation of the testing services is also being matched by the opening up of NHS data and information systems. NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE & I) (now merged in practice, though without the necessary legislation) is creating a data store to bring multiple data sources together including data from NHS111 calls, NHS digital and Covid-19 test results, and NHS and Social Care data. We are told that NHS data will remain under NHS England and NHS Improvement’s control!

    This data is very operational looks at occupancy levels in hospitals, capacity in A&E departments and statistics about length of stay of Covid-19 patients. The dashboard will provide a public health overview and supply operational data across the NHS. The partners in this include private sector multinationals  Microsoft, Palantir Technologies UK, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Faculty (an AI company), and Google. We are told that data and information governance will be strictly controlled.

    Apart from the private sector “entrism” into NHS data and information, we have seen KPMG being commissioned to build the Nightingale warehouse hospitals, which are having to be redesigned or mothballed. The NHS was only able to stand up to the extreme pressure through the dedication, commitment of health workers and their administrative and management staff embued with public service ethos. Another private sector stablemate, Deloittes, was handed the contract to provide PPE and to commission vaccine development. All this without the need for tendering.

    The risk that derives from the 2012 Lansley Act, the 2015 NHS guidance in England and the more recent Coronavirus Act, is that it eases privatisation of our NHS. And privatisation with even more stealth than that recommended by Nicholas Ridley’s Tory Research Dept proposals  to Margaret Thatcher in 1977, before she even became Prime Minister. Much commissioning of NHS services now takes place at national levels with very little if any scrutiny from publicly accountable local Boards. All these changes, brought in by the Tory Government before the pandemic, are now being used to privatise services and potentially set up the NHS for deeper intrusions into its role as a publicly funded and delivered health service.

    Exit out of lockdown

    Although some countries such as Korea and Sweden have avoided lockdown, many others  have had to use this blunt but too often necessary strategy. We are now seeing that countries that acted early and fast with containment measures, are planning the steps needed to safely reduce the constraints on everyday life and the economy.

    We have seen an excellent visual map of the five stages to be taken between May-August in the Irish Republic, which has so far been doing extraordinarily well in containing the infection with relatively few cases or deaths. New Zealand, which has been a beacon to other countries, seems to have succeeded with their policy of eliminating the virus. Under the excellent leadership of Jacinda Ardern, they too have set out their plan for freeing up movement of people and the economy. Neighbouring Australia have also done well with their policy on restricting air travel and quarantining arrivals, closing State borders and undertaking lockdown. They have only had 92 recorded deaths in their 25 million population and now have their staged plan published. No doubt we will be able to watch international sporting contests between NZ and Australia inside their Anzac bubble!

    On the European mainland Italy and Spain are taking their first cautious steps out of lockdown, which in their cases have pulled back the out-of-control spread. France has colour coded their regions and the red areas will remain under tougher conditions, but the South and West will see greater relaxation of controls. All these countries have published clear plans with criteria in easily understood diagrams of each phase and steps clearly laid out.

    The UK government has so far failed to set out the plan clearly and is at risk of confusing people by changing the message from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Alert”! They risk division across the devolved nations of the UK and misunderstandings about any new freedoms. Workers will need proper risk assessments of their workplaces before returning safely to work and this must include considerations about their journey to work, canteen and welfare facilities in the workplace, and that they that meet the standards of social/physical distancing and PPE provision where required. This will take time and many partners such as Trade Unions will need to be involved in aspects of the risk assessment in the workplace as well as facilitating transport to work.

    Conclusion

    We are at a critical point in the pandemic where we are still suffering from a comparatively high level of new cases being identified, with the social care sector suffering from particularly serious epidemic spread, risking the lives of thousands of very vulnerable residents. The government has rather belatedly recognised the WHO advice to test, test, test, and has successfully increased testing capacity but has failed to invest either in rebuilding the capacity of local public health teams in Local Government or in more local Public Health England teams.  In its struggle to get on with the response it is choosing to invest in private companies who have over the past decade already profited from NHS contracts in support services and laboratories, but now seem to have been also given access to NHS data. There is a serious risk of even further and deeper privatisation of NHS provision while publicly extolling the virtues of the NHS. And possibly the opportunity of using the data to try and sell private health insurance directly to individuals , or advertise private services in many more areas currently covered by the NHS. Finally, exiting lockdown will not be easy to achieve, as the epidemic has not declined in a persuasive manner, with the first wave suppressed and therefore prolonged. What people need is a clear staged plan for the steps to be taken and the data that will monitor progress rather than a statement of intent.

    As cardiologist Dr Banerjee notes in the Observer: “We were not humble enough to look at other countries and learn a lesson from them and lock down quickly – it is as simple as that. We were arrogant and thought that we had nothing to learn from other countries and thought that we were an exceptional case. In fact we had a lot to learn but didn’t take the opportunity”

    11.5.2020

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

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    The United Kingdom has overtaken Italy with the highest official death toll from the coronavirus, Covid-19 in Europe. New figures released on Tuesday, 5th May 2020 show that this is the trend, we ask, what does this mean for London and Inner London Local Councils?

    London is a vast geographical area and has a complex demography. The inner London boroughs are more diverse, in general and the outer London boroughs are more suburban.

    The incidents of coronavirus in the capital have been measured by the Office for National Statistics.

    The ONS reports that overall, London had 85.7 Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 population, almost double the rate of the next worst-affected region which is the West Midlands at 43.2 deaths per 100,000.

    Nick Stripe, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “By mid-April, the region with the highest proportion of deaths involving Covid-19 was London, with the virus being involved in more than 4 in 10 deaths since the start of March.”

    The figures for the top ten London Boroughs are:

    Borough SMR
    Newham 144.3
    Brent 141.5
    Hackney 127.4
    Tower Hamlets 123
    Haringey 119
    Harrow 115
    Southwark 108
    Lewisham 106
    Lambeth 104
    Ealing 103

    If we look even closer within each London borough, we can see the how each Super Output Area is affected. Super Output Areas are a small area statistical geography covering England and Wales. Each area has a similarly sized population and remains stable over time. You can take a look at the ONS interactive map here: 

    The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is an overall measure of deprivation based on factors such as income, employment, health, education, crime, the living environment and access to housing within an area. [NB There are differences between England & Wales]

    Age-standardised mortality rates, all deaths and deaths involving COVID-19, Index of Multiple Deprivation, England, deaths occurring between 1 March and 17 April 2020

    Looking at deaths involving the coronavirus (COVID-19), the rate for the least deprived area was 25.3 deaths per 100,000 population and the rate in the most deprived area was 55.1 deaths per 100,000 population; this is 118% higher than the least deprived area.

    In the least deprived area (decile 10), the age-standardised mortality rate for all deaths was 122.1 deaths per 100,000 population. In the most deprived area (decile one), the age-standardised mortality rate for all deaths was 88% higher than that of the least deprived, at 229.2 deaths per 100,000 population.

    The bar chart shows how much higher each decile is compared with the least deprived decile for all deaths and deaths involving COVID-19.

    For deciles 4 to 9, the percentage increase in age-standardised mortality rate of deaths involving COVID-19 is similar to that of overall deaths.

    The rate of deaths involving COVID-19 is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived

    Local responses will involve contact tracing. This graphic from Public Health England gives a brief description of the process.

    contact tracing is part of a public health approach

    Professor Allyson Pollock of Public Health at Newcastle University has been campaigning to raise the profile of a more localised approach, in a letter she has said that a massive increase in testing and tracing should be the next phase, but decades of cuts and reorganisations have whittled away the necessary regional expertise.

    In the letter the dynamic nature of the pandemic across the country is aptly described as “not homogenous. It is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of outbreaks around the country, each at a different stage.”

    Her approach champions “classic public health measures for controlling communicable diseases such as contact tracing and testing, case finding, isolation and quarantine. They require local teams on the ground, meticulously tracking cases and contacts to eliminate the reservoirs of infection. This approach is recommended by the WHO at all stages of the epidemic.”

    The history of public health is important including the recent changes in the Health & Social Care Act 2012. This abolished local area health bodies, created Public Health England to fulfil the Government’s duty to protect the public from disease and charged local authorities with improving public health.

    As public health returned to local government, with a sleight of hand, the Government introduced the current programme of public health funding cuts. In 2019/20, the London’s share of the Public Health Grant had fallen to £630 million, representing a per head funding reduction from £80.75 in 2015 to £68.61 in 2019, a fall of 15% and the biggest regional reduction in England.

    “Investing in public health is also hard for governments because the benefits accrue to their successors and there is little to show for spending at the end of the five-year election cycle.”

    “Cutting public health funding would be an act of self-mutilation. If controlling spiralling demand is the priority, for goodness sake don’t cut public health.”

    Luke Allen
    Researcher, Global Health Policy, University of Oxford in the conversation

    A localised response requires political will, expertise and attention to detail.

    Public Health funding and status needs to be revitalised and restored. It is a matter of life and death.

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    THE GOVERNMENT’S DUTY TO KEEP THE PUBLIC SAFE OUTSOURCED TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR

    HANCOCK INCREASES PRIVATISATION BY STEALTH

    On Monday, the news broke that contact tracking and tracing (the next stage in managing the pandemic) will be outsourced to the private sector in the form of at least two private call-centre operators, one of which is Serco. They are providing 15,000 or more staff who, after one day of training, will be given a script to follow in conversations with people who have been in contact with confirmed cases of Covid-19.

    Ministers have been using the pandemic as an excuse to by-pass “normal” procedures for awarding Government contracts which involve invitations to tender and have been awarding contracts to a string of private companies and management consultants with no open competition.

    Even these “normal procedures” are a way the Tories privatise the NHS – the way they first began to do it – by insisting services which had previously been provided in-house by NHS employees, be “put out to tender”. Which is how firms like Carillion which went bust in Jan 2018 leaving debts of £7 billion, G4S, ISS, Sodexo, Bouygues and others came to be the employers of hospital porters, cleaners and catering services. A privatisation process dating back to 1979 and the Thatcher government and including more recently the Private Finance Initiative supported by the Labour Government of Tony Blair, but accepted as a disastrous debt-generator by subsequent Labour leaders.

    The Government has proved itself totally inept at managing the health crisis caused by the Coronavirus. It ignored the findings of Exercise Cygnus in 2016 which forecast the need – in the event of a pandemic – for ventilators, PPE and all the equipment which the NHS now faces a dangerous shortage of. The Government did not want to spend the money. In fact it has been cutting the NHS to the bone instead.

    Worse than cutting the funding, it has also been cherry-picking lucrative bits of the NHS and offering them to private investors for private gain at the expense of service to patients.

    When Johnson said “The NHS saved my life”, voters may have concluded “the NHS is safe in his hands. The Government understands how important it is now.” They do, but ten years of deconstructing the national service, outsourcing and privatising have gathered momentum and still retain their ideological grip on this government with its zero experience of worry about where the rent is coming from, or the next meal. The NHS has been viewed by the Tories as a potential cash cow for private investors and their already-rich Tory-supporting friends and it still is as these contracts for testing and tracing illustrate.

    At the beginning of the Covid Crisis, the SHA said, as did most of the medical profession and its journals, a range of statisticians, forecasters, epidemiologists and other scientists, that the dismissive and over-confident decisions of Johnson and Trump were seriously ill-founded; that pursuing the idea of “Herd Immunity” would mean that the NHS would be overwhelmed, and that the Government should accept the hand of friendship from the EU and other countries which offered to share sourcing of needed equipment (despite the “we can do better on our own” series of snubs to the rest of Europe, emanating from the UK Tory Government since 2016).

    These commentators urged the adoption of effective measures.

    1. To slow down the spread so the emergency services could cope, hence the lockdown, though the UK Government was slow to introduce it compared to other countries.

     

    1. To test for the virus and trace the contacts of those infected, so the lockdown could be relaxed without a second wave of the epidemic. Again the UK Government was slow to implement this. SHA President and Prof. of Public Health, Allyson Pollock said that tasks including testing, contact tracing and purchasing should be handled through regional authorities rather than central government.

    This was delayed while a private sector plan was cobbled together presumably to pre-empt the NHS, local authorities and other public sector bodies being asked to do the same, though they have a greater range of contacts, experience and expertise in spite of the relentless down-grading of the public health infrastructure and the budgetary strangulation of local councils.

    1. This would give time for a longer-term solution, and the development of a vaccine to reduce the numbers likely to get Covid-19 again, or reduce its severity.

    Firms such as Serco, Mitie, Boots, Deloitte, KPMG, and a US “data-mining” group called Palantir, have already acquired the rights to manage Covid-19 drive-in test centres, the building of the Nightingale Hospitals, and the purchasing of PPE. Deloitte, for example, is a multinational “professional services network” and one of the largest accounting organisations in the world, managed to acquire a contract to advise the Government on PPE purchases a few weeks ago. It thus took more decision-making authority from the NHS and local authorities, and shifted more power from the frontline. “It’s a power grab”, said Rosie Cooper MP, and we must protest in the strongest possible terms.

    Deloitte has had a poor track record in delivering PPE to the front line since the pandemic began, and taking more decision-making from NHS managers and local authorities shifts power further from the frontline and money for services into private pockets  The tax-payer pays for declining service.

    The Guardian said that NHS Trusts have now been instructed by the DHSC to stop buying their own PPE and ventilators or high value equipment for more general use in hospitals such as mobile X-ray machines, CT scanners and ultrasound machines.

    The system of tracking and tracing will be enabled by an NHS app on smart phones that alerts people that they have been near someone known to have the virus, or if they come into contact with an infected person in the future. Calling it an “NHS app” is no doubt intended to reassure people who might not want to use a Serco or Deloitte app for fear of what might happen to data on where they have been and to whom they might have been close. However, most of the contact tracing work will be contracted out to Serco and at least one other private-sector firm.

    The app goes on trial on the Isle of Wight this week. Supporters of the SHA on the Island (currently busy in a cooperative project of people with sewing machines, recycling donated duvet covers and sheets into scrubs for the frontline) tell us that it went live yesterday with NHS and Council staff, and will reach the rest of the Island by Thursday.

    The Isle of Wight was chosen as an area relatively cut off from the rest of the country during the lockdown, so a good place to study the spread of a virus. Currently there are limited ferry services for lorries transporting food and medicine and for ambulances to transfer serious medical cases to Southampton or Portsmouth. In addition the population is older than the UK average and fewer people have smart phones, so if it works reasonably well in those circumstances it should work even better nationally, says Hancock.

    South Korea did not go into lockdown. It adopted a strategy of widespread tracing and mass testing. Take-up would have to be very extensive for this to work here. There will be resistance to detailed personal data being collected by a multinational company. David Blunkett tried to get us to all have ID cards after 9/11 and met strong opposition from civil rights lawyers, trade unions and, indeed, Tories.

    The government is using the pandemic to transfer key public health activities from the NHS and other state bodies to the private sector. In 1977, Nicholas Ridley wrote a pre-Thatcher plan for the Tory Research Department in which he outlined a strategy of “privatisation of the NHS by stealth”.  “Managing” Covid 19 presents a good opportunity for taking this  further, building on the destructive intent of the 2012 Health & Social Care Act enabling a Tory government to give even more taxpayers money to the private sector.

    Testing and tracing is to be given to the public limited company Serco and others as yet undisclosed, but likely to include the security services firm G4S. Serco became infamous   for having tagged thousands of criminals who either did not exist or were dead and “other botched government contracts”, reported The Financial Times in 2015. The chief executive is Rupert Soames, appointed to turn around the business (whose shares had dropped 50%) who in turn recruited Sir Roy Gardner as Chair and replaced almost the entire board.

    Now, Serco has been appointed by the Johnson Administration to perform public health tasks in England for which it has little experience and little credibility with the general public. This tells you all you need to know about the current Government. Forget all the PR post Covid survival thanks to the NHS and the protestations of undying love for it.

    The real values of the Government are revealed in this move to spread public largesse to its own, although it will rely on public support for the NHS to get people to allow data on their every movement to be collected by a spy on their phone

    The reason why the NHS gets such massive support is because the general public use it, see it first-hand, recognise its skill and, crucially, know – in some imprecise way – that it is “theirs”.  It exists to look after all who come to it for its skills, whether Prime Ministers,  homeless veterans, newly born babies, or those beyond cure but never beyond care. And free at the point of use.

    In contrast, however well run Serco might be, and however well it learns in three weeks what it has taken local government and the NHS decades to absorb, its first duty is to its share holders and the need to pay a dividend.   In this century it will never get the trust that the NHS acquired in the last. Trust and values matter, especially where using personal information and getting the co-operation of millions of the public is concerned. The Times  reported Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, as saying the Government would have to make downloading the app “a duty to the NHS”.

    Further, at a time when it is abundantly clear that the NHS, local government, and bits of the already part privatised social care system cannot continue with the pre-Covid-19 settlement, the Serco option is as old fashioned as it is unwise.

    This is one part of the Government’s plan that Labour has to expose and oppose. Now!

    Vivien Walsh & Tony Beddow

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    This is now the 8th weekly Blog published by the Socialist Health Association (SHA) commenting on how the Coronavirus pandemic is progressing both locally and globally. The lens we use is a socialist worldview where we aspire to One World and Planetary Health and are as concerned to reduce global as well as local health inequalities. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on local inequalities within the UK as well as stark global inequalities where people find themselves exposed and unable to follow the advice we receive in the UK and other rich countries to social distance and pursue rigorous hand hygiene.

    Health inequalities in the UK

    Last week the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published a report on Covid-19 deaths by local area and by socioeconomic deprivation (www.ons.gov.uk). This covered the period from the 1st March to the 17th April. During this period there were 90,232 deaths in E&W and of these deaths 20,283 involved Covid-19.

    Unsurprisingly London had the highest age-standardised mortality rate with 85.7 deaths/100,000 people involving Covid-19. This is significantly higher than any other region and almost double the next highest rate. In these SHA Blogs, one of our observations has been that London was the early hotspot and should have been shutdown much sooner and been our ‘Wuhan’. Remember all the press reports of bars and restaurants remaining open and people packed into London underground trains and buses?

    In London Covid-19 deaths were 4,950 amounting to 42% of deaths since the beginning of March compared to 1,051 deaths in the South West region of England, which was only 13% of total deaths there. The eleven Local Authorities with the highest mortality rates were all London boroughs with Newham, Brent and Hackney suffering the highest rates. Outside London rates are high in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester.

    Newham has the highest age standardised death rate with 144.3 deaths /100,000 population followed by Brent with 141.5 and Hackney with 127.4. In Newham 78% of its population are in BAME groups and 48% live in poverty after rent and household income are taken account of. The three London boroughs are in the most deprived group and across England the most deprived areas have a death rate of 55.1/100,000 compared with 25.3 in the least deprived (118% difference).

    The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is an overall measure based on income, employment, health, education, crime, the living environment and access to housing within an area. Each area of England is grouped into one of ten deciles and the most deprived is in d1 and least deprived in d10. As we know from work over the last 40 years since the Black report in 1980 – there is a social gradient for mortality and many other indicators of health and wellbeing.  Covid-19 has magnified the difference especially for those in the three most deprived deciles which shows a stark difference between Covid-19 deaths and all deaths. In the least deprived decile the mortality rate for all deaths was 122 deaths/100,000 population, whereas in the most deprived it was 229. The difference between all deaths (classic social gradient) was 88% whereas between Covid-19 deaths the difference was 118%, which is 30% higher.

    A similar picture emerges in Wales where they present the data as differently. The most deprived fifth of areas have a rate of 44.6 deaths per 100,000 involving Covid-19; this was almost twice as high as the least deprived area with 23.2 deaths/100,000.

    The other key finding from the ONS report was on urban versus rural areas. Major urban conurbations had a death rate of 64.3/100,000, which is statistically significantly higher than other categories including urban minor conurbations. The lowest rates unsurprisingly are in rural settings with rates as low as 9/100,000 population. There is a category ONS use called ‘major towns and cities’ in E&W which are built up areas excluding London. Of the 111 major towns and cities the highest mortality rate was in Salford with a rate of 112.6 deaths compared to Norwich with 4.9/100,00. One interesting prosperous market town that was hard hit is Cheltenham with a death rate of 49/100,00, which is significantly higher than the English average!

    Austerity and the slow burning injustice

    In his 2020 report of ‘Health Equity in England: the Marmot Review 10 years on’ Marmot found that the improvement of life expectancy which had been a consistent finding since the turn of the 19th century stalled in 2010 and years spent in ill health increased. He also showed that the social gradient in health became steeper and regional differences increased.

    The two features of Tory government policy during this period was to roll back the State – public expenditure went from 45% of GDP in 2010 to 35% in 2018 – and to be regressive. This meant that the poorer you were the more likely you would be to be disadvantaged by these changes.

    The excuse for the policies enacted from 2010 was the 2008 global financial crisis, which led to a decline in the global economy of 0.1% in 2009. The IMF  has predicted that the global economy will decline by 3% in 2020 on account of the pandemic. Already we have seen Universal Credit claims in the UK rise from 150,000 before the pandemic to 1.4m by the 13th April and rising daily. Marmot points out the risk that it would be a calamity if we face a new era of austerity after the pandemic. We need on the contrary to argue for a better society with less inequality and built by reducing child poverty, improving child health and education, improved working conditions ensuring that everyone has the minimum income to lead a healthy life and creating a sustainable environment in which to live and work creating the conditions for people to pursue healthy living.

    Places affected by conflict and humanitarian crises

    Inequalities are manifest globally as well as locally in the UK. For instance many of the estimated 70m forcibly displaced people worldwide live in insanitary and inhospitable conditions sometimes up to six families living in one tent in a 3sqm area. In these camps people share few latrines and washing facilities and have to queue for food each day. The Covid-19 mantra has been hand washing, social distancing and lockdown. People in conflict zones or refugee camps simply cannot follow this guidance and also have access to very rudimentary healthcare facilities.

    There is an urgent need to put international pressure on warring parties in Syria and Yemen to end restrictions on access to health care and humanitarian assistance. Public health support is needed to provide the conditions that do not allow the virus to spread and substantial financial support to overhaul the present conditions. This is more important and practical than supplying ventilators. The Covid-19 pandemic requires a global response for the most vulnerable populations globally as well as locally in the UK (David Nott Lancet 1st May 2020)

    Another globally vulnerable group are prisoners. In all countries including the UK prisons are a risk being closed communities with people living in crowded and in some countries squalid conditions. Conditions are worse in countries led by leaders like Duterte and Bolsonaro. In the Philippines for example there are an estimated 215,000 prisoners in prisons built for a capacity of 40,000 and in Brazil 773,000 prisoners are crammed into prisons built for 461,000.

    Whether it’s parts of the world with conflict and humanitarian crises or populations suffering from repressive governments there is an urgent need for rich countries to invest in international organisations such as the UN, WHO, UNHCR, UNICEF and AID organisations to try to mitigate the risks that Covid-19 poses on top of already stressed social conditions. It is possible to act locally on health inequalities as well as show solidarity globally.

    So what?

    In our earlier blogs we have been critical of some aspects of the pandemic response in the UK. It is sad to note that the UK is heading to have the worst outcome in Europe with us starting our epidemic behind Italy, Spain and France when Covid-19 hit Europe. The Government have been too slow to take measures such as locking down London and the South East rapidly and should have continued testing, tracking and isolating across the country – especially where the number of cases has been low and well within the capacity of local resources. This would have built practical experience and we would have learnt valuable lessons.

    Now that we have more testing capacity we need to build the programme from the bottom up. Local public health teams in Local Government stand ready to provide local leadership teaming up with professional Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) who have the skills and local knowledge to provide local leadership. Resources need to be targeted at areas of greatest need as we have illustrated through the excellent ONS report. Certainly smart apps will play a part as well as national leadership from COBR on the key features of the test, trace and isolate programme. However there has arguably been too centralised and London based approach to pandemic management. The time is ripe to allow local authority public health, supported by specialist PH resources to work with their Local Resilience Forum (LRF) using their local skills and knowledge to try to bring the pandemic to heel using classic communicable disease control methods of epidemic controls. This will help eliminate the virus, protect the NHS allowing it to reopen for normal business and enable the economy to start up again as soon as practicable.

    Pandemics kill in three ways says Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation:

    The Disease kills,

    Disruption of the health service kills

    and the

    Disruption to the economy kills”.

    3.5.2020

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

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    From Vivien Walsh in Manchester

    Right at the beginning of the lockdown, several of my friends said how concerned they were about the likely impact of enforced social isolation on those who are suffering from domestic abuse. On Monday, the (cross party) Home Affairs Committee of MPs, chaired by Yvette Cooper, reported on this, demanding “that the Government makes domestic violence and abuse a central pillar of the broader strategy to combat the Covid-19 epidemic.”

    Calls to domestic violence helplines, such as Refuge and Women’s Aid, were nearly 50% higher in the week 6-12 April than the average before the pandemic began. Visits to the website of Refuge were three times as high in March 2020 as they were in March 2019. The Home Affairs Committee called for this domestic violence strategy to combine “awareness, prevention, victim support, housing and a criminal justice response, backed by dedicated funding and ministerial leadership”.

    It also made a point of the need for specialist services for different ethnic communities, and for legal aid as an automatic right for women applying for Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs). An extension of the current time limit for reporting offences is also necessary, since many abused women will be unable to report the abuse they have suffered until after lockdown ends.

    Between March 23 and April 12 there were at least 16 killings of women and children in domestic situations, said the report on Monday. The average number of deaths from domestic violence during lockdown has gone up from 5 per week from a figure of two before. In a year that would be over 250 women killed by the person who is supposed to love them. The Parliamentary Committee had also received evidence that incidents reported were not only more frequent but involved higher levels of violence and coercive control.

    Unless the government takes action to deal effectively with domestic abuse and to properly support the victims of it, we will be facing “devastating consequences for a generation.” Funding is urgently needed to enable a growth in provision of housing for women and children escaping from violence, and to support refuges as temporary accommodation and support. Even before current emergency, England had 30% fewer than the recommended number of beds, and 64% of referrals were turned down in 2018-19.

    There is a National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 200 247). This is the number to call for  emergency referrals as they are open 24/7. In addition there a variety of services based locally. For example Manchester Women’s Aid (call 0161 660 7999  9:30am-4:30pm Mon-Fri) provides confidential advice and information, safe temporary housing, one to one support for those living in their own homes, access to legal advice and civil orders, specialist workshops for young women 15-25, language workers and access to interpreters, specialist support for women with poor mental health and drug and alcohol misuse. The full list of services in England and Wales is at the end of the article.

    The lockdown is in place to keep people safe from the virus: but it is also providing cover for abusers. Escape from being locked in with an abuser is a matter of life and death. A decade of austerity has not only undermined our NHS, on which we are now so dependent, but has also decimated support for survivors of domestic violence. The Government must increase funding as a matter of urgency – and there will be just as much need for services as abused women and children try to return to “normal” life when the lockdown is over. And Children’s services also need a big increase in funding to make sure children as risk, not only from the mental and physical impact of domestic violence, have access to help and support.

    Amna Abdullatif (whose day job is Women’s Aid lead for Children and Young People, and who is also a Manchester City Councillor) added the following information for the SHA in this blog: “78% of survivors experiencing domestic abuse told us that Covid-19 has made it harder for them to leave their abuser. If you’re feeling trapped, we’re here for you.”

    “Our Live Chat is now open from 10am – 2pm with expert support workers just one click away. You can be reassured that our Live Chat is completely confidential. To access support and advice go to: https://bit.ly/2y7ab0Q

    “If you, or someone you know, is experiencing abuse please read our Covid-19 safety advice for survivors, family, friends and community members https://bit.ly/2yNzqoW

    There are also local services for ethnic groups, such as Saheli Asian Women’s Project in Manchester, which provides advice, information and support services to Asian women and their children fleeing domestic abuse and/or forced marriages.

    The full list of services from the Womens Aid web site is below:

    National Domestic Abuse Helpline

    The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is run by Refuge and offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day to victims and those who are worried about friends and loved ones.

    Telephone and TypeTalk: 0808 2000 247

    Wales Live Fear Free Helpline

    The Wales Live Fear Free Helpline offers help and advice about violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

    Telephone: 0808 8010 800

    TypeTalk: 18001 080 8801

    Text: 078600 77 333

    The Men’s Advice Line

    The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them.

    Telephone: 0808 801 0327

    Email: info@mensadviceline.org.uk

    Galop – for members of the LGBT+ community

    Galop runs the National LGBT+ domestic abuse helpline.

    Telephone: 0800 999 5428

    TypeTalk: 18001 020 7704 2040

    Email: help@galop.org.uk

    Women’s Aid

    Women’s Aid has a live chat service available Mondays to Fridays between 10am and 12pm as well as an online survivor’s forum. You can also find your local domestic abuse service on their website.

    The Survivor’s Handbook, created by Women’s Aid, provides information on housing, money, helping your children and your legal rights.

    Karma Nirvana

    Karma Nirvana runs a national honour-based abuse and forced marriage helpline. If you are unable to call or email, you can send a message securely on the website.

    Telephone: 0800 5999 247

    Email: support@karmanirvana.org.uk

    Hestia

    Hestia provides a free mobile app, Bright Sky, which provides support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know.

    Chayn

    Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages about identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.

    Imkaan

    Imkaan are a women’s organisation addressing violence against black and minority women and girls.

    Southall Black Sisters

    Southall Black Sisters offer advocacy and information to Asian and Afro-Caribbean women suffering abuse.

    Stay Safe East

    Stay Safe East provides advocacy and support services to disabled victims and survivors of abuse.

    Telephone: 020 8519 7241

    Text: 07587 134 122

    Email: enquiries@staysafe-east.org.uk

    SignHealth

    SignHealth provides domestic abuse service support for deaf people in British Sign Language (BSL).

    Telephone: 020 3947 2601

    Text/WhatsApp/Facetime: 07970 350366

    Email: da@signhealth.org.uk

    Shelter

    Shelter provide free confidential information, support and legal advice on all housing and homelessness issues including a webchat service.

    Sexual Assault Referral Centres

    Sexual Assault Referral Centres provide advice and support services to victims and survivors of sexual assault or abuse.

    Get help if you think you may be an abuser

    If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be an abuser, there is support available.

    Respect is an anonymous and confidential helpline for men and women who are harming their partners and families. The helpline also takes calls from partners or ex-partners, friends and relatives who are concerned about perpetrators. A webchat service is available Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 11am and from 3pm to 4pm.

    Telephone: 0808 802 4040

    Get help for children and young people

    NSPCC

    The NSPCC helpline is available for advice and support for anyone with concerns about a child.

    The NSPCC has issued guidance for spotting and reporting the signs of abuse.

    Telephone: 0808 800 5000

    Email: help@nspcc.org.uk

    If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can contact the NSPCC via SignVideo using your webcam. SignVideo, using British Sign Language, is available on PC, Mac, iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android smartphones (4.2 or above). This service is available Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm and Saturdays from 8am to 1pm.

    Childline

    Childline provides help and support to children and young people.

    Telephone: 0800 1111

    Barnardo’s

    Barnardo’s provide support to families affected by domestic abuse.

    Family Lives

    Family Lives provide support through online forums.

    Support for employers

    Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse

    The Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse website provides resources to support employers including an employers’ toolkit.

    Support for professionals

    SafeLives provides guidance and support to professionals and those working in the domestic abuse sector, as well as additional advice for those at risk.

    Support a friend if they’re being abused

    If you’re worried a friend is being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. Neighbours and community members can be a life-line for those living with domestic abuse. Look out for your neighbours, if someone reaches out to you there is advice on this page about how to respond. They might not be ready to talk, but try to find quiet times when they can talk if they choose to. If someone confides in you that they’re suffering domestic abuse:

    • listen, and take care not to blame them
    • acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
    • give them time to talk, but don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to
    • acknowledge they’re in a frightening and difficult situation
    • tell them nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said
    • support them as a friend – encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions
    • don’t tell them to leave the relationship if they’re not ready – that’s their decision
    • ask if they have suffered physical harm – if so, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
    • help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
    • be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help for people experiencing domestic abuse

    If you are worried that a friend, neighbour or loved one is a victim of domestic abuse then you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.

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    From Ekua Bayunu, Member of Greater Manchester Socialist Health Association, and selected candidate for Hulme in the next Manchester City Council elections.

    When I joined SHA a couple of years ago I wanted to focus my energies on action against inequalities in the health systems around race, particularly in mental health. We now have evidence of the toxins that were seeping into us from the right, distracting us from actually building effective socialist action on health issues here in Greater Manchester.

    Skip forward and we are slap bang in the eye of the storm of the Covid 19 pandemic and still searching for some strength in our unity to make a difference to our communities. Many of our members are fully immersed in either working on the frontline, in providing care in our institutions, or in volunteering in mutual aid groups, many doing both and I send love and admiration out to us all.

    We lost my neighbour, an elderly Somalian man, to the virus on the last weekend in March. It felt like the storm that was brewing had just swept in and taken one of ours before we barely knew it was coming. Then the statistics started coming in. We are dying in inexplicably large numbers. We? I’m a woman of African heritage, my community is African, South Asian, Working class.

    My close friend, a street away, is a nurse working at MRI, already stressed by the lack of PPE, worrying about her family, the risk she posed to her 3 daughters and husband at home, when she got ill two weeks ago, together with two colleagues from her ward. They got tested. She doesn’t have access to a car, and the only testing is drive-through. No you can’t walk in. No you can’t get in a taxi! She started talking to us about wills and supporting her daughters and all the worries she has for them. Her eldest also works as a nurse, the youngest is only 10. Her cultural background is Turkish, and she knew she might die.

    She is in recovery, but the statistics get worse and worse. The demand for action grows as do the questions and desire for investigation. I read articles in the silo of my social media accounts and watched as it began to break slowly into mainstream media. At first I thought: they are holding back on the narrative, because it doesn’t suit their agenda to highlight how many were dying in service to us all who were from Diasporan African, Asian and other minority communities. We entered this year with forced deportations built on a narrative that these were the communities of criminals and spongers on the state. Suddenly the NHS workforce were our heroes, they put out ads supporting these workers and most of the workers were white. Did you all notice?

    Then as the statistics leaked into a wider societal consciousness, I became openly worried. Information being fed via the television is so absent of any real analysis that it actually begins to shape a eugenicist narrative, which the Prime Minister does little to distance himself from. Our deaths are not real sacrifices based on years of inequalities in education, health care, housing and employment, but gives out a message of our inherent weakness and inferiority! And whilst we all are shut in, angry, confused, needing to have something or someone to blame, in the place of blaming this government for its lack of care in putting profit over people, it is easy to discern they are creating a diversionary agenda.

    It is becoming increasingly clear BAME people are dying disproportionally, on the wards, driving our buses, cleaning our streets, in our care homes. They are presented as the problem, when they are the heroes and victims of the pandemic. Last week the government finally pulled together a commission with PHE to investigate the causes of BAME people dying disproportionally. Do we all assume that the why will lead to how to stop this? To a solution to help us? I can’t.

    Posted by Jean Hardiman Smith on behalf of Ekua Bayunu, Member of Greater Manchester Socialist Health Association

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    From Mark Ladbrooke, of Oxford SHA branch, and formerly chair of Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust (OUHT) Joint Union Committee

    Oscar King, Jr. and Elbert Rico, porters at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, and union activists, died two weeks ago of suspected Covid-19.

    Both of them are married to members of the nursing team at the hospital and Twilight, Oscar’s wife, was admitted to hospital, while their 10-year old daughter is being cared for. Oscar and Rico came from the Philippines and had worked at the hospital since they arrived.
    The Filipino community is extremely important to the NHS – after workers from the UK itself and India they make up the largest proportion of the workforce.

    Patients may not notice the porters as much as they notice doctors and nurses, but their role is just as vital, since they take everyone where they need to go, and move equipment and machinery to where it is required. The Labour Movement has supported junior doctors and nurses in dispute with management (backed by government) at various times – but porters, domestics and catering staff are frequently outsourced and are at the end of the queue.

    As long ago as 1982 the Thatcher government brought in competitive tendering for NHS services such as catering, cleaning, portering and estates maintenance. Oxford University Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust (OUHT), of which the Radcliffe is part, signed up to a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal, under which management of the porters, domestics and catering staff was transferred to a private company as the hospital was expanded. PFI was dreamed up when Norman Lamont was Tory Chancellor, but took off under the New Labour Government of Tony Blair after 1997.

    A Unison strike in Dudley in 2000 was the seventh against transfer to the private sector, as part of increasing resistance to PFI. The striking workers won important concessions around secondment, nevertheless management was still transferred to Carillion (which went bust in Jan 2018). The John Radcliffe workers threatened strike action in 2015 around pay cuts.
    Industrial action continues to be taken against PFI and its impact on working conditions, most recently this year in Lewisham (because the outsourcing firm failed to pay cleaners, porters and catering staff the wages that had been agreed) and Paddington. In the latter case, porters, caterers and cleaning staff at St Mary’s, with the support of some of the other staff, including doctors, became employees once again of the NHS.

    We, in the Joint Union Committee and local SHA branch knew Oscar, in particular, as a “brilliant rank and file union leader”. The SHA branch is well connected to the workplace and local unions. They help provide the leadership of the branch. The Chair of the SHA branch, Cllr Nadine Bely-Summers, a nurse, who also represents Oxford City Council on the local Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC), demanded answers from Bruno Holtof, chief executive of the OUHT, about the deaths of the two porters:


    – How many staff on site are managed by outsourcing companies or agencies?
    – What personal protective equipment (PPE) was provided by the trust to staff managed by outsourcing companies or agencies?
    – What personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was provided by the trust to staff managed by Bouygues and other outsourcers eg G4S? When was this provided?
    – Are staff being put under pressure to return to work while reporting sick?
    – How are the frontline outsourced staff who are vulnerable being treated?
    – Is the Trust legally liable for Health and Safety breaches on its premises including those by outsourcing companies and agencies?

    In response to her demands the Director of Public Health has promised to investigate further.
    BAME Labour activists working with Oxford City’s Labour Council have raised concerns that this may be part of a worrying national picture of an especially high death toll among black and Asian workers, as reported on various TV channels and in several daily newspapers in the last week.

    The local city council has written to the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust asking for an explanation.
    Nadine said “We must seek assurances from all NHS Trusts that there is day-to-day monitoring carried out to make sure there is not a disproportionate impact of the rates of infection and death on ethnic minority workers, and that adequate PPE are being provided at all times to all staff groups”.

    Stop Press!

    The Chief Executive of the Trust has written back to the council saying, among other things:
    We note, however in the case of reporting incidents in relation to Covid-19, that the HSE have indicated that “[in] a work situation, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for employers to establish whether or not any infection in an individual was contracted as a result of their work. Therefore, diagnosed cases of Covid 19 are not reportable under RIDDOR ( Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations )  unless a very clear work related link is established.”

    We are unable to comment in detail on specific individual cases but are able to note that there is not currently evidence to support such a link in relation to these two staff members. However we can confirm that reporting and investigation will take place in line with HSE guidance where a diagnosis of Covid-19 is directly attributed to an occupational exposure.

    Oxford and District Labour Party Executive has asked Anneliese Dodds (Labour Oxford East) to raise this issue in parliament. She reports that Labour is planning to raise such issues on workers’ memorial day.

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