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    Firefighters’ Union making demand on International Workers Memorial Day
    Government must issue urgent guidance to employers in public and private sector, FBU says

    The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is today (Tuesday) demanding that the government issue guidance to employers stating that the death of firefighters and key workers as a result of COVID-19 should be automatically recognised as work-related, allowing for their families to receive compensation.

    In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and devolved administrations, the FBU says that the guidance must cover all of those officially recognised as key workers by their respective governments as well as those who have been required to continue to work by their employer.

    The Westminster government announced a life assurance scheme for the families of NHS and care staff, but the FBU says thousands of families of firefighters and other key workers are still at risk of financial harm should they die from the virus.

    The FBU says that any compensation scheme should not preclude employees’ families from taking legal action against employers who may have jeopardised the safety of their workers, such as by failing to provide protective equipment.

    As well as the over 100 NHS and care staff that have already succumbed to the illness, dozens of transport workers are thought to have died, along with other workers in both public and private sectors.

    The FBU says that employers need to be given clear and unambiguous instruction to automatically consider all COVID-19 deaths as having been caused by the performance of their employees’ duties.

    The demand comes on International Workers Memorial Day as millions around the country and the world observe a minute’s silence in memory of the front line workers who have died during the crisis.

    Firefighters at risk

    The FBU says firefighters are at increased risk from COVID-19 infection as a result of their regular interaction with the public during emergencies. However, this risk has increased further with fire and rescue services undertaking a number of additional COVID-19 duties.

    Firefighters across the UK are now moving dead bodies, driving ambulances, delivering medicines and food to vulnerable people, and transporting patients to and from Nightingale Hospitals.

    Currently, firefighters can receive compensation from their specific scheme for long-term injury, illness, and death, but, to be eligible, a strict criteria must be satisfied to prove it was sustained as a result of their work. In the fire service and other industries this is often a source of disagreement between unions representing workers or their families and the employer.

    The FBU says that unless a specific COVID-19 compensations determination is forthcoming from the government, demonstrating that the illness came from their role as a firefighter will prove difficult, causing distress for families and potentially financial harm. [Note 1]

    The FBU is now calling for the government to write to all fire and rescue services in the UK and provide guidance stating that those who die from COVID-19 should be automatically assumed to have sustained the illness in the performance of their duties.

    There are currently around 48,000 serving firefighters in the UK who are covered by the firefighters’ compensation scheme.

    Other key workers

    The FBU says that such a compensation determination should also be broadened out to include all key workers who become infected and die from COVID-19.

    It should also cover those who have been instructed to continue working by their employer, but who are not in the official list of key workers.

    The government must, therefore, issue similar guidance to all employers in the public and private sector stating that in the case of any worker who dies or suffers long-term damage from COVID-19, it must be treated as arising from their duties.

    If necessary, the government must underwrite the scheme.

    Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said:

    “Tragically, hundreds of frontline workers have already died from COVID-19, and sadly so will more over the coming days and weeks. Each one of these deaths not only causes heartbreak for loved ones but can also push the families left behind into financial difficulty. The last thing they need is to fight a battle for compensation.

    “For firefighters, their regular work with the public puts them at an increased risk of COVID-19 infection, a risk heightened by the additional work they are doing in the response to the crisis, which now includes the movement of bodies, transporting of infected patients and delivering of vital food and medicines.

    “There is sadly a real chance that firefighters will die, and that’s why we are calling on the government to urgently instruct all fire and rescue services to treat any death from COVID-19 as being caused by their work, making families automatically eligible for a payment under the firefighters’ compensation scheme.

    “This instruction must also be broadened out to include all key workers, both in the public and private sector. Those not deemed key workers, but who have been obliged to continue attending work by their employer, must also be covered. Any compensation arrangements must not prevent families from taking further legal action against employers who have jeopardised the safety of their workers.

    “This crisis has demonstrated clearly who the key workers are in our society. And there can be no doubt that nurses, doctors, refuse collectors, bus drivers, firefighters, carers, and many more, have gone over and above to keep all of us safe – and the country running. The government must now promise to do its bit to keep all of their families safe and secure into the future.”

    Media contacts

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    FBU press office
    press@fbu.org,uk

    Notes

    Not all firefighters are in the firefighters’ pension schemes. Firefighters who are not in the firefighters pension scheme do not receive a death in service benefit unless they qualify under the firefighters’ compensation scheme i.e died as a result of a work-related injury/ illness/ disease. By making a clear compensation determination, the government would ensure those not in the pension scheme are also financially supported.

    The letter to the Prime Minister is available here: LETTER TO THE RT HON BORIS JOHNSON MP FROM FBU GENERAL SECRETARY MATT WRACK – 28 APRIL 2020.pdf

    The FBU is aware of 4 firefighter deaths in Italy and 9 firefighter deaths in the United States due to COVID-19

    On Monday 13 April, the FBU criticised the Westminster government for failing to commit to testing firefighters, as services lose around 3,000 staff to coronavirus self-isolation.

    Firefighters can now construct vital protective face shields for NHS and care staff, drive ambulances in parts of the country, will also now begin transferring both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients from Nightingale hospitals, after the latest agreement between the FBU, fire chiefs, and National Employers: https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2020/04/24/firefighters-make-face-shields-health-and-care-staff-and-transfer-patients-and

    Under previous agreements, firefighters are now permitted to assist ambulance services in some specified activities and drive ambulances; deliver food and medicines to vulnerable people; and, in the case of mass casualties due to COVID-19, move dead bodies. In the West Midlands and parts of the East Midlands, body movement work has now begun.

    Firefighters can also fit face masks and deliver vital PPE and medical supplies to NHS and care staff; take samples for COVID-19 antigen tests; drive ambulances to non-emergency outpatient appointments and to transport those in need of urgent care; and to train non-emergency service personnel to drive ambulances: https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2020/04/16/coronavirus-firefighters-now-allowed-carry-out-antigen-tests

    The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is the professional and democratic voice of firefighters and other workers within fire and rescue services across the UK. The general secretary is Matt Wrack

    The FBU is on Twitter: @fbunational and Facebook: facebook.com/FireBrigadesUnion1918

    Comments Off on All COVID-19 key worker deaths must be recognised as work-related, union says

    This is the 7th week that the SHA has published a Blog tracing the progress of the Coronavirus pandemic globally but more specifically across the UK. Over this time we have drawn attention to the slow response in the UK; the lack of preparedness for PPE supply and distribution; the delay in scaling up the testing capacity and system of contact tracing; a too early move away from trying to control the epidemic and poor anticipation of the needs of the social care sector.

    However we need to start to look at how we can reverse the situation we find ourselves in being one of the worst affected countries in the world. Our deaths in the UK now exceed 20,000 and we have been following Italy and Spain’s trajectory. It is true that while the lockdown came too late – London should have gone first – it has had an impact on suppressing the first wave and the NHS has stood proud and able to cope thanks to the unflagging commitment from all staff. It is good that Parliament has been reconvened so proper scrutiny can be given to government decisions on public health as well as the economy. We look to the new Shadow Team to pursue this energetically.

    It is no surprise that Trump’s USA is a lesson of the damage disinvesting in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had. It has led to poor emergency preparation and poor leadership at handling the pandemic at a federal level. From a SHA perspective an example of the superiority too of a nationalised health system as compared with a private health care model in the USA. Compare how it looked in New York City during their peak and the relative calm in London on the 8th April. From his rehabilitation home at Chequers it was concerning that one of the first phone calls PM Boris Johnson allegedly made was to Mr Trump. They share many characteristics but let’s hope that we do not end up second only to the USA in the international table of deaths/100,000 population and tie ourselves too closely with the ‘Make America Great Again’ nationalist neo-conservative movement.

    1. Scientific advice

    One of the characteristics of this pandemic has been the UK Government Ministers repeated claim that they have been making decisions on the best scientific advice. This claim has mystified some commentators who feel that the decisions being made by Ministers has not been in line with WHO advice (test, test, test) and not consistent with comparable EU countries who seem to have managed the pandemic more successfully (Germany and Denmark). We have never said that we cannot compare data published in Germany and Denmark before now!

    Sometimes Governments make bad calls during an emergency and wanting to keep the membership of SAGE secret was one such. There has been mounting concern about the provenance of some of the advice leading to Ministerial decisions. For example the early misunderstandings about ‘herd immunity’ and the fear that the nudge behavioural psychologists were having undue influence leading to the crucial delay in lockdown. Some of these scientists work in government units, which is not good for an independent perspective.

    The mixed messages about the modellers and their estimates of the likely deaths (20,000 to 500,000) which also surfaced before one modeller was allegedly responsible for pushing (thankfully) the belated decision on the lockdown.

    Many public health trained people have begun to wonder who on SAGE had any practical public health experience in communicable disease control? These concerns were prompted by the sudden abandonment of testing and contact tracing, the lack of airport or seaport health regulations used by other countries such as Australia and New Zealand (Australian deaths so far 80 for a population of 25m and NZ 18 for a population of 5m).

    Recently we have also been bemused by the inability to recognise how homemade cloth facemasks might play a part in easing lockdown. While there might be a relative lack of ‘gold standard’ evidence there is ‘face validity’ that a mask will stop most droplets and this will be important as we are finding so many people are infected for days before showing the classic symptoms and signs of fever and cough. Homemade cloth masks would not compete with NHS and Social Care supplies and these do seem to have been part of the strategy that countries that have been more successful at containment than the UK. We suspect that in time the recommendation to wear a cloth mask when going outside your home will become a recommendation!

    After the initial planeload of British nationals from Wuhan, who had been appropriately quarantined, there are no measures in place at all at our airports. The explanation about incubation period does not hold if people are quarantined for 14 days. The precision of temperature measurements should be seen as part of a screening regime, which would include risk assessment of country of origin, symptoms reported on a questionnaire or observed as well as temperature measurement. It is obvious that if a passenger causes concern the less accurate thermal imaging technique can be augmented by other more reliable ways of taking a temperature! It does not seem right that such measures are discounted for the UK and we are one of the worst performers while other countries with competent public health professionals take it seriously. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 people arrived from China to the UK between January and March 2020 with no checks at all apart from general Covid advice. Empty hotels would have been suitable for quarantining people at risk of having the virus. This matters as it is a very contagious virus and can spread before symptoms appear. Such symptoms can also be minimal and hard to detect.

    Now that the membership of SAGE has been leaked we can see that one of the Deputy CMOs is the only person who has had any ‘on the ground’ experience of communicable disease control in communities. This is important when we start to consider how we can get out of lockdown by using the new testing capacity optimally, contact trace effectively and introduce control measures locally. This will require Public Health England (PHE) to begin to strengthen its relationship with local Directors of Public Health (DsPH) located in Local Government. These DsPH can provide local leadership and work with Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) who to date have not been drawn into the pandemic management system.

    The presence of Dom C in SAGE meetings raises concerns. Of course civil servant officials have always attended the meetings to ensure that they are properly organised, agendas circulated and minutes recorded. It is quite a different thing to have an influential Prime Ministerial adviser like Dom C attend the meeting and no doubt interject during discussions and help shape the advice. That should be the Chief Scientific adviser’s (Prof Vallance) job and his role to brief the PM. The trust in SAGE has been damaged by the disclosure of membership, the lack of jobbing public health input as well as the presence and influence of these special advisers (SPADs).

    1. Easing lockdown

    One of the problems in the management of the pandemic in the UK has been the centralised London perspective, which has dominated the options and led to a one-size fits all approach. We have said before in these Blogs that Greater London was our Wuhan (similar population sizes). We should have shut London down much earlier and stopped the nonsense of those crowded tube trains and buses. We have seen from the Ministerial briefings that London has had an almost classic epidemic curve – rising steeply and then levelling off and declining. The devolved nations and English regions have lagged behind. Scotland and Wales got their first cases about 4 weeks after London and the South East. Regions such as the SW region in England, Northern Scotland and the Islands, rural Wales and parts of the North of England have been slow to have cases and even now have had few cases and few deaths. These areas did not need to be locked down at the same time as London and the South East and could have instituted regional testing and contact tracing which would have helped flatten the curve and protect the NHS.  Such a strategy would have built up experience of doing this which we now have realised we need to do to get out of lockdown. However we have an asymmetric situation with the regions showing gradual and flat epidemic curves, which will be prolonged and frustrate a UK alone approach.

    The challenge of easing lockdown will be quite different in metropolitan urban areas with heavily used public transport and metro trains and a more dense housing with fewer green spaces. The picture in more rural areas and small towns is quite different. There is a serious need to engage with local government more appropriately, pull back from central control and set out a framework as has been started in Scotland and Wales which local government partners can start to address via their Local Resilience Fora (LRFs) and emergency control structures.

    There does still need to be a UK wide COBR approach but the strategy needs to be more nuanced to set out the UK framework and allow devolved nations who are a similar size to New Zealand and Denmark and English regions to plan locally sensitive approaches drawing on expert advice from Public Health organisations such as Public Health Wales, Scotland and PHE. Metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham and Manchester will also want to be able to adapt measures to fit their local complexities. This will be particularly important as we start a system of community testing, contact tracing and control measures. National testing standards and quality will apply and any mobile apps that are developed will need to be agreed at a national level with all the safeguards on privacy and information governance.

    Children have been remarkably resilient to this virus and it seems that back to school is something worth considering as an early venture as long as schoolteacher’s health is safeguarded by not exposing ‘vulnerable’ teachers, and implementing systems to make physical distancing more feasible. It is urgent to look at international best practice and be flexible in our approach.

    Pubs and restaurants will be further down the list as will mass sporting events but widening the retail sector and getting some workplaces back should be planned. Again travel to work should only be necessary for some workplaces and physical distancing, masks and health and safety regulations will need to be updated to suit each work environment before permission to reopen is given. All these steps require enhanced local public health capacity.

    1. Recovery planning

    An important part of emergency planning frameworks is the need immediately an emergency is recognised to begin the ‘recovery planning’. This will depend on the characteristics of each emergency. In the case of Covid-19 we will need to look at the build up of elective care, especially surgical waiting lists. It will also need to urgently review those people with long-term non-Covid conditions who may have had their continuing medical care disrupted. There will also be those casualties of the pandemic who have been traumatised by the pandemic and have mental health issues, burnout, faced economic hardship and PTSD. People who have had Covid-19 and survived a period in ICU and ventilation will also need weeks and sometimes months to recover. So all this adds up to a load for the NHS and associated services to address.

    As we have seen the economy has taken a big hit and many businesses have found themselves having to close down or reduce their workforce/suspend manufacturing output. It is unclear how we measure what has happened to our economic base but we have seen the growth in unemployment, the rise in welfare applications and the stories of those caught out with a sudden loss of employment and income. We know that 12 years after the 2008 financial crash that the legacy remains. This is far bigger so we need to begin to agree how the economy can be rebooted safely while protecting those vulnerable populations and safeguarding the children returning to school or workers to the factory floor. Trade Unions must be key partners of this economic recovery planning challenge.

    The other aspect of a recovery plan is to take advantage of good things we have experienced such as the reduction of air pollution with a reduction of car use and aviation and other transport. The global satellite pictures of Beijing, Delhi and Milan tell the story that life can be better if we reduce our carbon footprint. Working from home, the benefit of fast broadband should all lead to a reappraisal of environmental and other life changes. The growth in cycling and physical activity in green spaces should also be built on.

    Finally the pandemic has once again thrown a light on inequalities with the risks of occupational exposure (bus drivers), risks in hospital environments (porters, receptionists to nurses and doctors) and retail shops (shop assistants/cashiers). Many manual workers have had to go out to work still and in the process through travel and the work environment been at higher risk. Those who live in over crowded households have been at greater risk with fewer opportunities to self-isolate. Many of those in poorer urban housing estates have also been exposed to risk and found safely going to shops, medical centres or exercise much more difficult. We know about the health inequalities gradient and when this pandemic is analysed fully these social economic and environmental determinants will show through. It is pretty clear that BAME communities have been more susceptible to the virus and while this may have some biological features such as cardiovascular/metabolic risks it will also be socioeconomic, cultural and reflect occupational exposure.

    So recovery plans need to be set out to ensure that we do not revert to business as usual but grasp the opportunities that there are to build a better future after the C-19 pandemic. The Beveridge Committee was established relatively early during WW2 and the report was published in 1942 setting out the vision of an NHS and State Education for example. We have an opportunity to push for similar progressive changes after Covid-19.

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

    2 Comments
    • Plans include major cuts to fire engines and staffing levels
    • FBU says it amounts to a ‘betrayal’ of firefighters and the public

    Firefighters have warned of a major threat to public safety as politicians and fire chiefs try to sneak through cuts to the fire and rescue services while firefighters respond to the coronavirus crisis.

    The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) made the comments after a consultation on sweeping fire and rescue cuts was launched mid-pandemic.

    The union has called out the Prime Minister and other government ministers for clapping key workers on a Thursday while turning a blind eye to brutal cuts to a frontline emergency service.

    Firefighters have agreed to take on sweeping new duties to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including moving dead bodies, driving ambulances, and producing PPE, at the request of the government and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).

    But East Sussex’s Conservative-controlled fire authority has decided to consult the public on sweeping cuts to the county’s fire service, detailed in an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) drawn up by Chief Fire Officer Dawn Whittaker and senior managers before the coronavirus outbreak.

    The proposals include major cuts to the number of fire engines, staffing levels, and nighttime fire cover.

    The proposals include

    • Cutting 10 fire engines across the county from Battle, Bexhill, Crowborough, Lewes, Newhaven, Rye, Uckfield, Seaford, Heathfield and Wadhurst stations;
    • Cutting dedicated crews for high-reaching aerial fire appliance
    • Cutting wholetime staffing  levels across the county, particularly at stations in Lewes, Newhaven, Uckfield, Crowborough, Battle and Bexhill stations
    • Reducing night time fire cover at The Ridge fire station

    The FBU has accused fire chiefs and politicians of using the cover of the pandemic to sneak through the plans and has warned the public that this could be the first of many attempts to rush through decisions on cuts to services whilst attention is elsewhere.

    Since 2011, fire and rescue services in the UK have had 11,500 firefighters cut from their staff, and since 2013 have seen real-terms spending on their service slashed by 38%.

    In neighbouring Surrey, the FBU agreed to suspend planned industrial action so that firefighters could help communities through the crisis.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “The Prime Minister and other government ministers are asking people to clap for frontline workers on a Thursday, while their policies continue gutting frontline services. It’s shameless hypocrisy.

    “While firefighters are taking on sweeping new areas of work to keep their communities safe, they have been completely betrayed by fire chiefs and politicians.

    “Frankly, we don’t know what the world will look like on the other side of this pandemic. Across the political spectrum, people are crying out that we cannot go back to normal – and that has to mean an end to brutal cuts to frontline services.

    “We have entered national negotiations in good faith to help communities through this crisis. If politicians and the NFCC want that to continue, they need to step in and stop these cuts.

    “This could be the first of many attempts to sneak through cuts to services while the public focuses on the pandemic. If politicians think they are going to make public services pay for this crisis, then they are sadly mistaken.”

    Simon Herbert, East Sussex firefighter and FBU brigade chair, said:

    “Firefighters are out on the frontline helping our communities through this crisis whilst still responding to fires and other emergencies.

    “Meanwhile, our fire authority has thanked us by beginning the process of decimating our emergency response capabilities and ability to save lives, all from the safety of their living rooms.

    “These proposals are dangerous and will seriously damage the availability of fire crews throughout East Sussex. These proposals deserve proper public scrutiny – not an ill-thought-out consultation process snuck out in the middle of the pandemic.”

    National media contacts

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    FBU press office
    press@fbu.org.uk

     

    • On Saturday, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said in an interview with BBC News: “”It’s great that people are going out and clapping on a Thursday night, but the question will be – because clapping is not enough – what are we going to do as a society to redress the balance a bit and give recognition?”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52403609
    • The draft IRMP for East Sussex fire and rescue service 2020-2025, detailing cuts to the service, is available here: https://esfrs.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s1027/200423%20CFA%20IRMP%202020-25%20REPORT.pdf
    • The agenda from the East Sussex fire authority meeting is available here: https://esfrs.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=136&MId=333&Ver=4
    • Firefighters can now construct vital protective face shields for NHS and care staff, drive ambulances in parts of the country, will also now begin transferring both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients from Nightingale hospitals, after the latest agreement between the FBU, the NFCC, and National Employers: https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2020/04/24/firefighters-make-face-shields-health-and-care-staff-and-transfer-patients-and
    • Under previous agreements, firefighters are now permitted to assist ambulance services in some specified activities and drive ambulances; deliver food and medicines to vulnerable people; and, in the case of mass casualties due to COVID-19, move dead bodies. In the West Midlands and parts of the East Midlands, body movement work has now begun.
    • Firefighters can also fit face masks and deliver vital PPE and medical supplies to NHS and care staff; take samples for COVID-19 antigen tests; drive ambulances to non-emergency outpatient appointments and to transport those in need of urgent care; and to train non-emergency service personnel to drive ambulances: https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2020/04/16/coronavirus-firefighters-now-allowed-carry-out-antigen-tests
    • The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is the professional and democratic voice of firefighters and other workers within fire and rescue services across the UK. The general secretary is Matt Wrack
    • The FBU is on Twitter: @fbunational and Facebook: facebook.com/FireBrigadesUnion1918
    Comments Off on Brutal cuts to fire and rescue services being rushed through during the pandemic, union says

    “Thanks to all those who continue to provide rapid feedback from their frontline experience. Also for the forensic questions you provide. You are helping the Labour Party challenge where needed”.

    Brian Fisher ( SHA Chair )

    EXPERIENCE FROM THE FRONTLINE 26 4 20

    Social distancing at the Stanlow / Ellesmere Port petrochemicals plant is impossible as the staff need to work in pairs or larger teams to do their work, often one on top of another, that’s the nature of the work.  My contact thinks much of that work is un-necessary at this time, it is not just about securing the site etc.., but workers are threatened with losing their jobs if they don’t come in.  I have seen photographs of lunch or tea breaks during this emergency, with staff in high vis clothing sitting sardined together on benches at refectory type tables.

    Even those with asthmatic conditions have been refused time out.  It looks to be completely irresponsible of management.  I understand similar situations are to be found at similar plants elsewhere in the country

    Guide dog training has been stopped, so people waiting for a replacement dog or to have one for the first time cannot.  I know several elderly blind or partially sighted people in this situation who are now trapped at home, probably indefinitely.  They are aware that if they stop walking they may never start again as muscle tone and bone mass are soon lost without exercise

    PPE

    Masks for the public when going into public spaces. The govt appear frightened of this because of concerns that it will divert surgical masks away from hospitals. They are confounding PPE, expensive, scarce and required by carers to prevent their catching the virus, with simple face coverings, in cotton or linen, cheap, washable and effective at reducing onward transmission. Trisha Greenhalgh has done an excellent explainer that sets out the evidence on this:  https://www.fast.ai/2020/04/13/masks-summary/   It is endorsed as policy by the CDC   https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html

    Sadiq Khan has also been ahead on this promoting cloth masks for the public on London transport.  There will need to be a lot of them – but textile companies are not selling many clothes and could churn out millions pretty quickly –  but they need to be asked. Govt thinks public not grown up enough to understand advice for cloth not surgical masks.  My view is that masking up in public will have to be an important component of any exit strategy – and they need to get on with it.


    Locally I find from contacts that those who are doing care support in the homes do not seemingly have any kind of PPE at all which is not surprising but also alarming.

    LA councillor

    TESTING

    We are waiting for ‘test test test’ but that is feeling as though it will be a very long wait.  While we are waiting we need to recruit and train an army of contact tracers.  This needs to start now, almost certainly through local authorities.


    We shall have to do case detection syndromically if the necessary volume of testing is not available when transmission has fallen significantly through the lockdown, with whatever limited testing support is available. This will be easier as we leave the seasonal respiratory viruses behind.  It is not perfect, but perfection is not necessary, just reducing the transmission rate.


    Given that TESTS are supposed to be the start of this action” chain “ it less than clear where this chain is supposed to start and how it will relate to any denominator population / geographical community. It is clear that Ag and Ab tests are not going to be available in local communities  through the 7500 GP practices in England in the foreseeable future .

    So it looks like Govt expect the management of the pandemic, exit from lock down and the inevitable second pandemic wave to be done via:

    • our 50 mass drive in test centres – [ ie for that segment of the population which has cars ]  – so our understanding and contact tracing for spread will be the ill defined catchment areas of these test centres
    • and / or through home based test kits …..in which case it could be completely random / Brownian in shape / dynamics

    How will home-based tests connect with the new army of contact tracers which is being recruited by PHE – and their “assault “ on the spread of the virus  in local communities but it seems essential to involve general practice in our response to  COVID . I suppose it depends on how important you believe community spread generated though care and nursing homes is at periods of high community transmission in which case Public Health England may get a grip with additional support.

    It appears that there are currently no  plans nationally to use our unique infrastructure of 7500  general practices to do Covid 19 testing. In Birmingham during swine flu in 2009, GP consultations and reports provided public health / health protection agency with “ hot knowledge “ about new cases ;  did swab tests and  gave us insight into the geography of spread across the city during the containment phase.

    Apparently Ribera Salud integrated health care model in Valencia Spain has been able to mobilise and use flexibly all health care staff [ public health , primary care and hospitals ] during this crisis.

     

    QUESTIONS

    Is the government prepared to cope with the wave of mental health problems which are about to hit us as we pass the peak? I work as a mentor of GPs and keep in touch with issues on the front line. I am actually more concerned about care workers who have not been trained in the same way as doctors and nurses. If doctors are struggling with what they are seeing, how will a care worker cope with the loss of their charges in the homes from this terrifyingly overwhelming illness? What support will be available for their mental health?

    Have the 3 RAF aircrafts returned from Turkey with the PPE? Did the government lie / mislead the country last Friday? Can the government confirm when the order was placed? It’s been reported that the Turkish government say the order wasn’t placed until Sunday.

    Can the Government confirm whether the story in the Telegraph today about a British firm exporting 750k pieces of PPE because the Government hadn’t got back to them is correct or not

    Is there any country which has a reliable antibody test? 

    What is the preparation for accelerating the implementation of the postponed electives, treatments etc. as we transition to “normal”? Also, how to research the status of people who have avoided presenting themselves to their GP or A&E? These need to be well managed.

    Apparently 15,000 a day are flying into the country with little regulation while we are all self isolating at home. Not to mention the rich arriving at private airports. How can we not be restricting air traffic at this time?

    What arrangements is the minister putting in place to strengthen local and regional public health management of continuing cases to prevent subsequent new waves of the epidemic? The containment phase was ended in Mid-March and  lockdown applied nationally, despite considerable variation of reported disease transmission regionally throughout the UK.

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

    Comments Off on FRONTLINE EXPERIENCE AND TOUGH QUESTIONS 26 4 20

    From Stephen Watkins, retired Director of Public Health, Stockport.

    Based on 119 deaths in a patient-facing workforce of about 800,000, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) suggests that death rates in NHS staff are no higher than in the general population.

    It is important to remember the difference between mortality rate (deaths per 100,000 people at risk) and fatality rate (proportion of deaths in those actually infected).

    It is not possible to draw an accurate conclusion without age-specific mortality rates (not fatality rates) for the general population and for NHS patient facing staff. The crude mortality rate for NHS staff based on the HSJ figures would seem to be about 14 per 100,000 per current duration of epidemic. (“Crude” means not adjusted for age and sex).

    Based on the Lancet article by Verity et al[1], the age-specific fatality rates in people of working age, based mainly on Chinese figures, appear to be between 0.03% in people aged 20-29 and 0.59% in people aged 50-59, then increasing to 1.93% in people aged 60-69. Assuming a reasonably even spread of ages between 20 and 65 the average would be 0.3%.

    Applying this to the 14 per 100,000 mortality rate would equate to 4,666 cases per 100,000.

    Therefore assuming the accuracy of the Chinese fatality rates, and assuming an even spread of ages between 20 and 65 in the NHS workforce, the mortality rate in the NHS population is what would be expected if the death rates were the same as the general population if 4.6% of the working age population has been infected to date.

    If fewer than 4.6% of the working age population has so far been infected, the rates in NHS staff are higher. If more than 4.6% of the working age population has so far been infected,  the rates in NHS staff are lower. We do not however have accurate age-specific incidence rates for the general population from which to make an accurate assessment.

    However, if there were a 4.6% incidence rate in the general population there would now have been 2,990,000 cases and the Government is not quoting anything like that figure.

    Subject to caveats about the inaccuracy of the data and the extreme approximations made in the calculation, it would appear that rates in NHS staff are significantly higher than in the general population. This may, however, not be true if the rates of infection in the general population are being grossly understated, which could well be the case.

    [1] Robert Verity et al, “Estimates of the severity of coronavirus disease 2019: a model-based analysis”, The Lancet online 30. 03.20.

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    We are being fed a narrative. The story is that “we are all in it together.” Like the “spirit of the Blitz”. But we are not. The Government is spinning a story to make itself look like the helpless victim of events outside its control, at worst. And in a superhuman flight of fancy, actually IN control at best. Meanwhile it has been systematically cutting NHS funding to the bone, ignored the findings of its own pandemic drill, Exercise Cygnus, and preferentially awarding contracts to firms which are big Tory Party donors, as we have reported in previous blogs.

    We are not “all in it together” any more than, during World War II, our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were. No wonder those who had borne the brunt of the war elected a government in 1945 that would introduce the National Health Service, the Welfare State and free education for all (to the age of 24 or more  for those who could benefit from it, thereby benefitting the country at the same time).

    The Tory line is that everyone in the world wants PPE and ventilators, and it’s not the Government’s fault that there are shortages. “It’s a competitive market out there,” said Dominic Raab. Yes. But why then did the Government behave as though it had all the time in the world in January, and in February, and in March? On 13th April, The Guardian listed THIRTEEN occasions when the UK was invited to meetings with EU countries to share “bulk-buying” procurement of necessary items, and either attended but did not join in the shared action, or did not attend at all.

    Meanwhile, the Government (finally) asks British Industry to help in the production of 30,000 more ventilators and the BBC reports on 26th March, that the Government has ordered from  Dyson (which makes vacuum cleaners). Rather than a firm in the medical equipment industry which already makes ventilators. The technology for sucking up dirt is quite different from that required for ventilating people whose lungs are not properly functioning, as I explained in an earlier blog; but Dyson is a friend and donor of the Tory party.

    NHS budgets have been cut relentlessly since Thatcher was Prime Minister. Following the forecasting Exercise Cygnus, the government’s advisers recommended that in the event of a pandemic , personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided “for all hospital, community, ambulance and social care staff who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients”. But recorded minutes of a then-Department of Health (now Dept Health and Social Care) meeting, quoted by The Guardian on 27th March, have revealed that in 2017 the advisers were told to “reconsider their advice” because of the cost involved: “following these recommendations would substantially increase the cost of the PPE component of the pandemic stockpile four-to six-fold”.

    Then reports of deaths of frontline workers from Covid-19 start appearing in the press and on TV and Radio news. On 10th April Hancock says “PPE must be treated as a precious resource.” Can he be blaming the medical profession for wasting PPE? On 11th April nineteen deaths are recorded among health care workers. This is the day after the press were told that it was inappropriate to record such information.

    17th April BBC News announces medics have been asked to re-use gowns. Some hospitals report that they will run out in 24 hours. Then the following day Sky News also reports that NHS staff were advised to “re-use PPE ahead of the expected weekend shortage.”

    Public Health England (PHE) guidelines until now were that doctors and nurses treating Covid-19 patients should work with protective, waterproof, full length surgical gowns, plus a mask, a visor or goggles and double gloves – so that droplets containing the virus did not get into their mouths or noses.

    These guidelines have now been reversed and doctors and nurses asked to wear washable medical gowns, or non fluid-repellent equipment, with a thin plastic apron when proper gowns run out.

    An anaesthetist after a shift reported to us that Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) nurses were still using bin-liners as improvised PPE. And that a lot of the outsourced staff had totally inadequate protection. He confirmed that the big issue was PPE and the other consumables: drugs, infusion equipment, breathing systems, and body bags – as well as experienced ITU nurses, and hardware like haemofilters” (which are used to do the work of the kidneys in intensive care in the case of renal failure).

    Although the Guardian is the main source of our timescale, the same newspaper gave Chris Hopson of NHS Providers a platform to start re-framing the PPE shortages and to try and blame the shortages on China. Our informant told us that the shortages were predictable and avoidable, and far more widespread than we realised. It seemed to him that Number 10 was controlling the news agenda: stories about the nurses who took care of Johnson displaced criticism that could have been made when the death toll passed 10,000; and  deaths in New Hampshire displaced the news of dead NHS workers.

    No employer should ask staff to undertake work that is unsafe for them – and in the case of Covid-19, unsafe for patients. Doctors and nurses are within their rights to refuse to endanger themselves. Nursing Notes on 26th March reported that the British Medical Association’s Chair of Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul had said: “A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots. Even a bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing. And yet this Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious Covid-19 patients without wearing proper protection. This is totally unacceptable.” So far, however, neither the BMA nor the Royal College of Nursing has called on workers to refuse to work without proper PPE.

    We – and they – must support staff who do refuse to run major risks, and place the blame where it lies.

    The anaesthetist we spoke to said that the Tories had mismanaged COVID on a monumental scale. The UK has far fewer ITU beds than other EU countries. He told us that Hancock thought putting ventilators next to beds created thousands more ITU beds: he didn’t realise you need other equipment and trained staff! (this is the Minister of Health.) And then he lied to the public, saying there were thousands of empty ITU beds. He doesn’t realise there’s more to intensive care than ventilators. The doctor told us they had run out of equipment, staff, drugs and PPE…. And his department agreed that they could not allow colleagues to be coerced into entering ITU areas without adequate PPE.

    Later he went on to say that that we never had the resources to provide intensive care on the scale required…. That rationing care was something nobody wanted to do, but that it was impossible to provide safe care on the scale required. This was always going to happen. It was already happening with haemofiltration. There are not enough machines for the number of patients with renal failure. They are now moving devices (intended for continuous use) around between patients, giving them intermittent filtration, which would be impossible to defend at an inquest.

    Hancock has tried to grandstand, with rhetoric about being on a war footing. It would have been better to have used eligibility criteria for organ support but the Tories worried about adverse PR and headlines eg about age discrimination. So instead of any criteria, it is a case of first come first served. The worst sort of rationing.

    Comments Off on News from the Front Line 21.04.20.

    Dear friends of the NHS

    Despite the three week lock-down the government has failed to keep us safe.

    @DefendOurNHS is increasingly frustrated and angry at the inadequate government response to the crisis*.

    Our message is simple. We ask you to adopt it and share it as widely as possible.

    The message is Test! Trace! PPE!

    The hashtag on twitter is #TestTracePPE.

    Let’s try to have a Twitter ‘storm’ at 5:00pm on Wednesday.

    Please use this message at every opportunity when contacting family, friends and the wider public.

    You might also include the message in the rainbow posters appearing in windows. Examples you can use are on our Facebook page (in the ‘files’ section’).

    When you go outside to clap and bang pans on Thursday, please chant Test! Trace! PPE!

    This appeal is urgent. Help us to get the word out now!

    Thank you.

    On behalf of Defend Our NHS

     

    • Bottom of the international virus testing league table, no sign of systematic contact tracing, health and care staff pleading on social media (including our Facebook page) for supplies of personal protective equipment.

    1 Comment

    WHO COVID-19 Database

    WHO is gathering the latest international multilingual scientific findings and knowledge on COVID-19. The majority of citations referenced are published journal articles. The global literature cited in the WHO COVID-19 database is updated daily (Monday through Friday) from searches of bibliographic databases, hand searching, and the addition of other expert-referred scientific articles. Particular emphasis is placed on identifying literature from around the world. Multiple search strategies that are under continual revision are used to obtain this global perspective. New research is added regularly.

    Available since January 26th, a more powerful search interface has just been launched on the 14th of April and can be accessed at the following link:

    https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/global-research-on-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov

    The WHO evidence retrieval sub-group has begun collaboration with key partners to enrich the citations and build a more comprehensive database with inclusion of other content. Future improvements are envisioned on improve the end user’s experience.  The database is built by BIREME, the Specialized Center of PAHO/AMRO and part of the Regional Office’s Department of Evidence and Intelligence for Action in Health.

    For further information or questions, please contact the WHO Library via Library@who.int

    Tomas ALLEN

    WHO Library

    World Health Organization

    Geneva, Switzerland

    Posted by Jean Smith on behalf of Tomas Allen with thanks to Sue Thomas.

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    The SHA started to publish its Covid-19 Blogs on the 17th March and since then have issued weekly blogs. It is extraordinary to reflect on this being our sixth commentary on the socialist health view of the unfolding global pandemic.

    In earlier Blogs we have covered many different topics and each Blog reflects on particular issues that have sprung up over the past week and identified as emerging issues. In this week’s Blog we will look at social care, testing, and possible steps out of lockdown.

    1. Social Care

    This has rightly hit the headlines over the past week as the plight of our care services and their residents have been under the media spotlight. We knew from the early data from China mid January that the C-19 virus seemed to particularly harm older people and particularly adults with underlying conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart and lung disease. Mortality rates in these at risk groups is comparatively high and 90% of deaths in the UK have been in the over 60 year olds with half of these deaths being in people over 80 years old. This has led the UK government to define vulnerable groups and also those ‘very vulnerable’ people who need to be ‘shielded’ from exposure to the virus. The very vulnerable shielded groups are estimated to a number 1.5m and are self isolating indoors for 12 weeks. Many but not all of these very vulnerable people will be in residential or nursing homes.

    Having identified these at risk populations, attention needed to be directed towards those sub populations of older or vulnerable people who were living in residential or nursing homes. These institutions are high risk as ‘closed communities’ accommodating a group of high-risk individuals who would be at risk of an outbreak of C-19 within that setting.  Decisions have had to be made by the management of these residential and nursing homes to, in many cases,  exclude relatives from visiting.  Some brave and extremely committed care staff have decided to move themselves into the nursing or residential homes to reduce the risk of them bringing C-19 in from their own homes and local community. It cannot be a surprise to hear now about outbreaks in these establishments causing disease and death to workers and their residents. Again like other aspects of this pandemic response – we had early warnings from Italy and Spain about the isolation and risks that this sector faced. Did we do enough quick enough?

    SHA President Prof Allyson Pollock published an Editorial in the BMJ on the 14th April, which identified that social services in the UK are amongst the most privatised and fragmented in the world, and have been underfunded for decades. Between 2010 and 2018 local authority spending on social care in England fell by 49% in real terms. The UK has 5500 providers operating 11,300 care homes for older people and 83% of these care home beds are provided by the for-profit sector, it is more privatised than the US.

    She also reports that care services employ 1.6m care staff (1.1m full time equivalent) of which 78% are employed by the independent sector. Pay is low; 24% of people working in adult social care are on zero hours contracts, and in March 2019 around a quarter were being paid the national living wage of £7.83 an hour or less. The sector is 120,000 workers short, and agency staff, are commonly employed and move from care home to care home. Social care has been a low priority for PPE supplies despite the high risks for residents and staff.

    Valiant efforts have been made by the sector with heroism shown by these low paid workers as well as stoicism by residents, many of whom may well be bemused and depressed as to why they no longer have visitors as well as the unusual PPE equipment being used by staff. It will have been difficult to plan for the various contingencies when cases emerged in homes, to access testing of staff and residents, to successfully isolate cases and discuss whether residents should be moved to hospital to obtain extra levels of care. Such admissions to more resourced NHS facilities should be an option even if cases would not meet eligibility for ITU care or wishing to be subject to that level of intrusive care. There should be options available, rather than simply assuming appropriate care will be delivered in that setting by stretched staff with relatively few registered nurses, no medical presence on site and few resources of PPE and other equipment such as oxygen supplies, oxygen delivery equipment and monitors such as oximeters.

    The SHA has been concerned about the social care sector for years and has developed policies to transform the sector under the banner ‘rescuing social care’. At the 2019 Labour Party Conference the SHA called on a future Labour Government to legislate for a duty to provide a universal system of social care and support based on a universal right to independent living. This should be based on need and offering choice; be free at the point of use, universally provided and fully funded through progressive taxation. This new National Care Service (NCS) should ensure that there are nationally agreed qualifications for staff, a career structure and enhanced pay and conditions of service. Recognition of informal carers is needed too with clarity about rights and support. The policy proposal has many other facets and stops short of integrating the NCS with the NHS. However close working would be built in and integrating data and information into a common system would be expected.

    As for many of the issues that have arisen so far with the pandemic the social care sector has not been in a strong position to push back C-19. The underpaid staff, the high vacancies and the often unsuitable, adapted accommodation is rarely fit for modern care needs. The fragmentation of the sector with ‘for profit operators’ finding it hard with constrained funding has led to vulnerability in the sector as well as the residents. Maybe this will be the time that showed how, rather than a shiny green badge, the social care service should be taken into a publicly funded national care service.

    1. Tracking, Tracing, Testing, and Treating (isolating)

    One of the criticisms we have made of the Government’s pandemic response has been the decision on the 12th March to pull back from testing for cases in the community and contact tracing. It may turn out that this was a policy decision driven by the lack of availability of tests rather than a decision made not to control community spread. On the 24th February there had been 9 confirmed cases of C-19 in the UK and the WHO had announced that countries should ‘ prioritize active, exhaustive case finding and immediate testing and isolation, painstaking contact tracing and rigorous quarantining of close contacts

    By the 22nd March there were 5683 confirmed cases and yet even then the WHO advice was ‘ find those who are sick, those who have the virus and isolate them. Find their contacts and isolate them’.  In outbreaks you do not always have confirmatory tests available but can make public health decisions based on the history and observation in the context of the unfolding epidemic. We seem to have forgotten the cardinal symptoms of continuous cough and fever.

    We have pointed out in earlier Blogs that countries that have been successful so far in controlling C-19 such as South Korea and Taiwan have been ones that have used widespread testing, tracing contacts and quarantining them. Germany has also been an example of a Western European country that has used this traditional communicable disease control methodology to save lives and protect their health service. Such a public health approach is most important in epidemics like this where there is no vaccine and no effective therapeutics other than sophisticated intensive supportive care.

    It is symbolic that the data that is presented at the daily press briefings has in the main used hospital testing data, hospital admissions and until recently exclusively hospital deaths. TV crews have been crawling over ITUs to get extraordinary footage of these wonderful NHS teams doing outstanding and stressful work. The incredible success of building Nightingale Hospitals in record time has been a reminder of the extraordinary efforts made in Wuhan to meet urgent need.

    However outside hospitals we have had the social care sector relatively unprepared, people self isolating in their homes and having to gauge the seriousness of their symptoms with intermittent telephone calls to NHS111. The disease has been spreading across the country from London to other metropolitan centres and then into smaller towns and rural areas. We could and should have shutdown London earlier as this has been our Wuhan. Local surveillance is limited and active contact tracing thought to be irrelevant even when many areas across England, Wales and Scotland had few cases. Environmental Health Officers in Local Government have not been mobilised. An opportunity missed.

    We have also seemed content to keep our airports and seaports open with little if no border health security. Again other countries who have managed to control this pandemic stopped and controlled air traffic, quarantining arrivals from high risk areas and making basic investigation on history (?cough) and taking travellers temperatures. Not difficult to do and look at Australia and New Zealand for actions on this source of new infections of a virus with high levels of transmissibility. In the UK it is estimated that over 190,000 people flew into the UK from China between January and March with no testing/quarantining.

    1. Evidence of unpreparedness

    The UK seems set to be one of the countries in Western Europe with the worst outcome in regards to mortality rates from C-19 despite the effectiveness of the NHS, which has withstood the pressure. We are often said to have an exemplar emergency planning system, the government had a pandemic as No. 1 risk on the national risk register, kept stockpiles and has computer modellers of world class.

    Yet we do not seem to have acted on the emergency planning exercises such as the 2016 Operation Cygnus (‘swan’ flu). We are now aware that in Sept 2017 the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies reported that “There is a high probability of a flu pandemic occurring with up to 50% of the UK population experiencing symptoms, potentially leading to between 20,000 and 750,000 fatalities and high levels of absence from work’.

    There have been disclosures recently that are worth referring to that set out the timelines which showed the Prime Minister distracted and absent from COBRA meetings in January/February (A comprehensive countdown to how Britain came to have one of the highest COVID-19 per capita death rates – http://www.bylines.com). Also there has been an Insight team report for the Sunday Times on the 19th April 2020 (Coronavirus: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster). The current Secretary of State is an actor in this drama and the former Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt who has been a critic of some aspects of the Governments response was of course in power during this time. We are told that ‘pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years when there were more pressing needs’ and ‘preparations for a no-deal Brexit sucked all the blood out of pandemic planning’

    1. Getting out of lockdown

    There are various scenarios that are being set out about how to get out of lockdown once the number of new cases decline and the first wave is thought to be ‘over’. This is likely to take time as the curve is flat and the proportion of the population with resistance is thought to be quite low. The government are hesitating about setting out the scenario and talking too much about the delivery of an effective, safe and tested vaccine. This usually takes 12-18 months and can never be guaranteed. They also are talking up the possibility of an effective drug therapy but we all know that viral illness do not lend themselves to highly effective drug treatments as we know with the Tamiflu debate after the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. So really we should again consider more immediate and classic public health control measures that have been shown to work in this pandemic.

    This will need health scrutiny and effective border controls that New Zealand and Australia have used successfully. There will within the country need to be effective systems of testing, contact tracing and quarantining with every day life respecting physical distancing and the use of facemasks. South Korea has shown the way that this can be enhanced and made more bearable by using mobile phones loaded with new technologies. These will warn people if at risk and disclose red, amber or green status. This will allow the economy to restart and people begin to get out and about again. The very vulnerable will in the early phases of this need to be protected.

    Prof Pollock in a recent BMJ editorial (Covid-19: why is the UK government ignoring WHO’s advice) states that ‘this means instituting a massive, centrally co-ordinated, locally based programme of case finding, tracing, clinical observation, and testing. It requires large teams of people, including volunteers, using tried and tested methods updated with social media and mobile phones and adapting the guidance published from China’ and other countries who are implementing such systems.

    This will require a change of mindset in government and from their medical and scientific advisers but as J.M.Keynes said:

    When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

    20th April 2020

    Published by Jean Smith on behalf of the SHA Officers and Vice Chair’s

    2 Comments

    At Friday’s Health and Social Care Select Committee, West Lancashire MP and Committee Member Rosie Cooper questioned the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock about whether the deaths of clinical staff who have died working in the NHS are being referred to the Health and Safety Executive for investigation.

    Responding, the Secretary of State said that investigations are being done by the NHS and the employers of the staff and will involve the Health Service Safety Investigations Body.

    Following ‘The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013’ it is a legal requirement to make a report when a worker dies.

    In response to this, Rosie Cooper MP has submitted a Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Health, asking whether the NHS would be breaking the law by not reporting the deaths of staff following occupational exposure to coronavirus to the Health and Safety Executive.

    West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper said:
    “I feel it is absolutely necessary for any investigation into these deaths to be carried out by a wholly independent body.

    “It is essential that these investigations are transparent and conducted independently of any organisation involved in the handling of this crisis as we cannot effectively have the employer investigating itself.

    “I have written to the Chief Executive of the Health & Safety Executive to explain that I believe it is imperative that the Health & Safety Executive investigates each and every one of these deaths, to ensure that the circumstances and any opportunity for learning are made public.”

    Update. The government have replied to Rosie’s questions.

     

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    Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that firefighters, police, prison staff and Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) workers will now be eligible for coronavirus testing, in a session of the Health and Social Care Committee.

    Responding to the announcement, Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary, said:

    ‘We’re pleased to see that the government has listened to the FBU and finally agreed to open up some testing to other key workers, including fire and rescue personnel. However, it is a shame it has come this late, with thousands of firefighters already self-isolating – this is something that could have been easily avoided.

    ‘We are awaiting further details but it is clear that there are questions around the functioning of the scheme that is now open to more key workers . The health secretary said fewer NHS staff were coming forward to be tested than hoped, but this is surely an issue of accessibility, rather than frontline staff not wanting to be tested. Many of the testing centres are far out of town and require extended trips in a car – if this is a barrier to nursing staff, it will also be a barrier to other key workers.

    “It is also clear that this testing scheme will only identify the virus in those individuals presenting symptoms or living with others who are. Many key workers who have been exposed through their work will have contracted the virus yet remain asymptomatic. Frequent and accessible testing of key workers who are at high risk of exposure is also needed to reduce the risk of spread in workplaces.

    “To ensure that fire and rescue services, and other vital services can continue to operate in this crisis, we don’t just need access to these testing schemes, but to also see the capacity of the schemes themselves increase. There need to be more tests available full stop.”

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

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    Firefighters across the UK could support the delivery of COVID-19 testing, including taking samples for antigen tests, in the latest agreement between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), fire chiefs and fire service National Employers. After appropriate training, firefighters will be able to carry out swab tests on other fire and rescue personnel, their families, and the wider public if necessary.

    The update to the national agreement will now allow firefighters to drive ambulances to non-emergency outpatient appointments and to transport those in need of urgent care. Firefighters can also begin training non-emergency service personnel to drive ambulances to aid the coronavirus response.

    It follows an agreement last week between the union, fire service National Employers, and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), which has allowed firefighters to fit face masks and deliver vital PPE and medical supplies to NHS and care staff.

    Firefighters have already begun driving ambulances, delivering food and medicines to vulnerable people, and moving dead bodies in some areas, after an initial agreement was reached on 26 March.

    The FBU warned earlier this week that around 3,000 fire and rescue personnel were already in self-isolation due to coronavirus. The union says NHS and care staff are a priority but that testing must also be urgently made available to fire and rescue personnel.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “While the government is lagging behind its own schedule to deliver testing, the number of tests that have long been promised may require assistance from outside of the NHS and we are here to help.

    “Firefighters are highly skilled and are able to take on new areas of work to assist in these extraordinary times – and this now includes carrying out antigen tests, driving ambulances to non-emergency incidents, and training other personnel to drive ambulances.

    “We’ve raised our concerns about the government’s mishandling of coronavirus testing and the impact it is already having on frontline services. Fire and rescue personnel are now able to assist in the national testing which is so urgently required.

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    1 Comment