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    The Socialist Health Association (SHA) published its first Blog on the COVID-19 pandemic last week (Blog 1 – 17th March 2020). A lot has happened over the past week and we will address some of these developments using the lens of socialism and health.

    1. Global crisis

    This is a pandemic, which first showed its potential in Wuhan in China in early December 2019. The Chinese government were reluctant to disclose the SARS- like virus to the WHO and wider world to start with and we heard about the courageous whistle blower Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, who was denounced and subsequently died from the virus. The Chinese government recognised the risk of a new SARS like virus and called in the WHO and announced the situation to the wider world on the 31st December 2019.

    The starter pistols went off in China and their neighbouring countries and the risk of a global pandemic was communicated worldwide. The WHO embedded expert staff in China to train staff, guide the control measures and validate findings. Dr Li Wenliang who had contracted the virus, sadly died in early February and has now been exonerated by the State. Thanks to the Chinese authorities and their clinical and public health staff we have been able to learn about their control measures and the clinical findings and outcomes in scientific publications. This is a major achievement for science and evidence for public health control measures but….

    Countries in the Far East had been sensitised by the original SARS-CoV outbreak, which originated in China in November 2002. The Chinese government at that time had been defensive and had not involved the WHO early enough or with sufficient openness. The virus spread to Hong Kong and then to many countries showing the ease of transmission particularly via air travel. The SARS pandemic was thankfully relatively limited leading to global spread but ‘only’ 8,000 confirmed cases and 774 deaths. This new Coronavirus COVID-19 has been met by robust public health control measures in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. They have all shown that with early and extensive controls on travel, testing, isolating and quarantining that you can limit the spread and the subsequent toll on health services and fatalities. You will notice the widespread use of checkpoints where people are asked about contact with cases, any symptoms eg dry cough and then testing their temperature at arms length. All this is undertaken by non healthcare staff. Likely cases are referred on to diagnostic pods. In the West we do not seem to have put much focus on this at a population level – identifying possible cases, testing them and isolating positives.

    To look at the global data the WHO and the John Hopkins University websites are good. For a coherent analysis globally the Tomas Peoyu’s review  ‘Coronavirus: The Hammer and the dance’ is a good independent source as is the game changing Imperial College groups review paper for the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). This was published in full by the Observer newspaper on the 23rd March. That China, with a population of 1.4bn people, have controlled the epidemic with 81,000 cases and 3,260 deaths is an extraordinary achievement. Deaths from COVID-19 in Italy now exceed this total.

    The take away message is that we should have acted sooner following the New Year’s Eve news from Wuhan and learned and acted on the lessons of the successful public health control measures undertaken in China and the Far East countries, who are not all authoritarian Communist countries! Public Health is global and instead of Trump referring to the ‘Chinese’ virus he and our government should have acted earlier and more systematically than we have seen.

    Europe is the new epicentre of the spread and Italy, Spain and France particularly badly affected at this point in time. The health services in Italy have been better staffed than the NHS in terms of doctors/1000 population (Italy 4 v UK 2.8) as well as ITU hospital beds/100,000 (Italy 12.5 v UK 6.6). As we said in Blog 1 governments cannot conjure up medical specialists and nurses at whim so we will suffer from historically low medical staffing. The limited investment in ITU capacity, despite the 2009 H1N1 pandemic which showed the weakness in our system, is going to harm us. It was great to see NHS Wales stopping elective surgical admissions early on and getting on with training staff and creating new high dependency beds in their hospitals. In England elective surgery is due to cease in mid April! We need to ramp up our surge capacity as we have maybe 2 weeks at best before the big wave hits us. The UK government must lift their heads from the computer model and take note of best practice from other countries and implement lockdown and ramp up HDU/ITU capacity.

    In Blog 1 we mentioned that global health inequalities will continue to manifest themselves as the pandemic plays out and spare a thought for the Syrian refugee camps, people in Gaza, war torn Yemen and Sub Saharan Africa as the virus spreads down the African continent. Use gloves, wash your hands and self isolate in a shanty town? So let us not forget the Low Middle Income Countries (LMICs) with their weak health systems, low economic level, weak infrastructure and poor governance. International banking organisations, UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO and national government aid organisations such as DFID need to be resourced and activated to reach out to these countries and their people.

    1. The public health system

    We are lucky to have an established public health system in the UK and it is responding well to this crisis. However we can detect the impact of the last 10 years of Tory Party austerity which has underfunded the public health specialist services such as Public Health England (PHE) and the equivalents in the devolved nations, public health in local government and public health embedded in laboratories and the NHS. PHE has been a world leader in developing the PCR test on nasal and throat samples as well as developing/testing the novel antibody blood test to demonstrate an immune response to the virus. The jury is out as to what has led to the lack of capacity for testing for C-19 as the UK, while undertaking a moderate number of tests, has not been able to sustain community based testing to help guide decisions about quarantining key workers and get intelligence about the level of community spread. Compare our rates of testing with South Korea!

    We are lucky to have an infectious disease public health trained CMO leading the UK wide response who has had experience working in Africa. Decisions made at COBRA and announced by the Prime Minister are not simply based ‘on the science’ and no doubt there have been arguments on both sides. The CSO reports that SAGE has been subject to heated debate as you would expect but the message about herd immunity and stating to the Select Committee that 20,000 excess deaths was at this stage thought to be a good result was misjudged. The hand of Dominic Cummings is also emerging as an influencer on how Downing Street responds. Remember at present China with its 1.4bn population has reported 3,260 deaths. They used classic public health methods of identifying cases and isolating them and stopping community transmission as much as possible. Herd immunity and precision timing of control measures has not been used.

    The public must remain focused on basic hygiene measures – self isolating, washing of hands, social distancing and not be misled about how fast a vaccine can be developed, clinically tested and manufactured at scale. Similarly hopes/expectations should not be placed on novel treatments although research and trials do need supporting. The CSO, who comes from a background in Big Pharma research, must be seen to reflect the advice of SAGE in an objective way and resist the many difficult political and business pressures that surround the process. His experience with GSK should mean that he knows about the timescales for bringing a novel vaccine or new drugs safely to market.

    1. Local government and social care

    Local government (LAs) has been subject to year on year cuts and cost constraints since 2010, which have undermined their capability for the role now expected of them. The budget did not address this fundamental issue and we fully expect that in the crisis, central government will pass on the majority of local actions agreed at COBRA to them. During the national and international crisis LAs must be provided with the financial resources they need to build community hubs to support care in the community during this difficult time. The government need to support social care.

    COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to our older population and those with underlying health conditions. This means that the government needs to work energetically with the social care sector to ensure that the public health control measures are applied effectively but sensitively to this vulnerable population. The health protection measures which have been announced is an understandable attempt to protect vulnerable people but it will require community mobilisation to support these folk.

    Contingency plans need to be in place to support care and nursing homes when cases are identified and to ensure that they can call on medical and specialist nursing advice to manage cases who are judged not to require hospitalisation. They will also need to be prepared to take back people able to be discharged from acute hospital care to maintain capacity in the acute sector.

    Apart from older people in need there are also many people with long term conditions needing home based support services, which will become stressed during this crisis. There will be nursing and care staff sickness and already fragile support systems are at risk. As the retail sector starts to shut down and there is competition for scarce resources we need to be building in supply pathways for community based people with health and social care needs. Primary health care will need to find smart ways of providing medical and nursing support.

    1. The NHS

    In January and February when the gravity of the COVID pandemic was manifesting itself many of us were struck by the confident assertion that the NHS was well prepared. We know that the emergency plans will have been dusted down and the stockpile warehouses checked out. However, it now seems that there have not been the stress tests that you might have expected such as the supply and distribution of PPE equipment to both hospitals and community settings. The planning for COVID-19 testing also seems to have badly underestimated the need and we have been denied more accurate measures of community spread as well as the confirmation or otherwise of a definite case of COVID-19. This deficiency risks scarce NHS staff being quarantined at home for non COVID-19 symptoms.

    The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic highlighted the need for critical care networks and more capacity in ITU provision with clear plans for surge capacity creating High Dependency Units (HDUs) including ability to use ventilators. The step-up and step-down facilities need bed capacity and adequate staffing. In addition, there is a need for clarity on referral pathways and ambulance transfer capability for those requiring even more specialised care such as Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). The short window we now have needs to be used to sort some of these systems out and sadly the supply of critical equipment such as ventilators has not been addressed over the past 2 months. The Prime Minister at this point calls on F1 manufacturers to step in – we wasted 2 months.

    News of the private sector being drawn into the whole system is obviously good for adding beds, staff and equipment. The contracts need to be scrutinised in a more competent way than the Brexit cross channel ferries due diligence was, to ensure that the State and financially starved NHS is not disadvantaged. We prefer to see these changes as requisitioning private hospitals and contractors into the NHS. 

    1. Maintaining people’s standard of living

    We consider that the Chancellor has made some major steps toward ensuring that workers have some guarantees of sufficient income to maintain their health and wellbeing during this crisis. Clearly more work needs to be done to demonstrate that the self-employed and those on zero hours contracts are not more disadvantaged. The spotlight has shown that the levels of universal credit are quite inadequate to meet needs so now is the time to either introduce universal basic income or beef up the social security packages to provide a living wage. We also need to ensure that the homeless and rootless, those on the streets with chronic mental illness or substance misuse are catered for and we welcome the news that Sadiq Khan has requisitioned some hotels to provide hostel space. It has been good to see that the Trade Unions and TUC have been drawn into negotiations rather than ignored.

    In political terms we saw in 2008 that the State could nationalise high street banks. Now we see that the State can go much further and take over the commanding heights of the economy! Imagine if these announcements had been made, not by Rishi Sunak, but by John McDonnell! The media would have been in meltdown about the socialist take over!

    1. Conclusion

    At this stage of the pandemic we note with regret that the UK government did not act sooner to prepare for what is coming both in terms of public health measures as well as preparing the NHS and Local Government. It seems to the SHA that the government is playing catch up rather than being on the front foot. Many of the decisions have been rather late but we welcome the commitment to support the public health system, listen to independent voices in the scientific world through SAGE and to invest in the NHS. The country as a whole recognises the serious danger we are in and will help orchestrate the support and solidarity in the NHS and wider community. Perhaps a government of national unity should be created as we hear much of the WW2 experience. We need to have trust in the government to ensure that the people themselves benefit from these huge investment decisions.

    24th March 2020

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    All hospital car parking charges for NHS staff in England should be abolished this week as they combat the coronavirus, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Monday 23 March).
    Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said that NHS trusts in England were charging employees an estimated £50-to-£200 a month for the privilege of parking at their place of work.
    Unite contacted shadow Labour health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth this afternoon asking him to raise the issue of abolition of the parking charges for NHS staff for the duration of the coronavirus emergency with his Conservative counterpart Matthew Hancock.
    Unite said such a move, ideally this week, would remove the additional worry for NHS staff concerned about travelling on restricted public transport networks.
    Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “It is a long-standing Unite policy that NHS staff should not be charged to park their cars for coming to work to look after the sick, injured and vulnerable.
    “This is even more important and relevant, given that NHS staff are already risking their lives round the clock to save those suffering from COVID-19.
    “We have been in touch with Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth this afternoon asking him to raise this with his counterpart Matthew Hancock as a matter of urgency.  
    “NHS staff don’t need the additional worry of parking, especially when there are restrictions on public transport and it is safer in these times to drive to work than risk infection on trains and buses. 
    “Many NHS staff are not well-paid and the fact that NHS trusts in England  are charging them £50-£200-a-month to park in normal times is wrong – in this exceptional period of national emergency, it is doubly so.”
    Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
    Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.
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    I sent this letter to the Scottish First Minister and health spokesperson with the PQs attached and and copied it to Welsh First Minister and Health spokesperson.

    21 March 2020

    Dear Nicola and Jean,

    I am writing as a public health physician who is increasingly concerned about the apparent failure to implement fundamental public health measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak – specifically, community contact tracing and testing – and about what seems to be one of the knock-on effects of this failure, namely the blanket closure of schools.   

    Tracing and testing of contacts, isolation and quarantine are the classic tools and approaches in public health to infectious diseases. According to the WHO, they have been painstakingly adopted in China in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, with a high percentage of identified close contacts completing medical observation; and they have been strongly recommended by the WHO for other countries.

    In England, there are a lack of data – contact tracing appears to have been adopted only initially. According to modelling conducted by the authors of one of the papers published by the government yesterday, ‘The Efficacy of Contact Tracing for the Containment of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Keeling et al.) they expect that it would enable the outbreak to be contained :
    “Aggregating across all individuals and under the optimistic assumption that all the contact tracing can be performed rapidly, we expect contact tracing to reduce the basic reproductive ratio from 3.11 to 0.21 – enabling the outbreak to be contained (figure 2). Rapid and effective contact tracing can therefore be highly effective in the early control of COVID-19, but places substantial demands on the local public-health authorities.”

    The basic reproductive ratio, R0, is a standard epidemiological construct for understanding the epidemic potential of an infection; the higher the ratio, the more difficult it will be to control its spread. Ideally, R0 should be 0. If R0 is less than 1, an infected person will transmit the infection to less than one other person, and so the epidemic potential is critically reduced. On the basis of this modelling, if contact tracing is not being rigorously conducted now, the possibility of critically reducing the epidemic would be missed. The Keeling paper when taken together with the New York academics Shen et al  critique  raises serious questions about the validity of  Prof Fergusson’s  model (whose apocalyptic numbers were was used by the Westminster government to justify its approach.)  

    I am truly concerned that contact tracing, testing, quarantine and isolation have not been exhaustively carried out before taking the blanket decision to close all schools. I have sent the opposition spokespeople for health at Westminster some suggested PQs that my colleague Peter Roderick and I have drafted, which I attach.

    It is important to note that many areas in Scotland and elsewhere have a low number of cases and so at this stage by taking an area approach to vigorous and meticulous contact tracing and testing it should be possible to contain the disease – in Singapore, the BBC reports that the army has been called in to help with this. This would in time, with other measures, allow local areas on a school-by-school basis to safely consider reopening – and uphold each child’s right to education.

    One of the major differences in this outbreak is that the outbreak is being managed centrally rather than being coordinated centrally, with insufficient foot soldiers on the ground. In England local authorities and Directors of Public Health cannot tailor responses to the local situation and are subject to central policy decisions. My colleagues in public health in local authorities say they have received very little information. This, combined with the devastating cuts to community-based communicable disease control and the changes wrought by the HSC Act 2012 which carved out public health from health services in England and then further fragmented communicable disease control by removing it to PHE have created a perfect storm.

    I urge the Scottish government immediately to institute a massive centrally-coordinated, locally-based contact tracing and testing programme; and to discuss with local authorities, health boards, trade unions, public health and communicable disease control experts, schools and colleges and universities how this tried-and-tested classic approach would, with other measures, enable the blanket school closure decision to be modified in favour of a locally-based strategy.    

    Scotland has been a pioneer for public health measures –it is important to reassert its expertise.
     
    Yours sincerely,
    Allyson Pollock

    Professor Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University



    Suggested draft PQs to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on contact tracing and testing

    Summary

    Contact tracing, testing of contacts and isolation are the classic tools and approaches in public health to infectious diseases. They have been adopted in China in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and have been strongly recommended by the WHO. In England, there is a lack of data – contact tracing appears to have been adopted only initially, whilst the authors of one of the scientific papers published by the government today state that they expect that it would enable the outbreak to be contained.  

    China

    In February 2020, 25 experts from China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, the US and WHO undertook a 9-day Joint Mission on COVID-19 to China.
    It stated the following on contact testing:

    “China has a policy of meticulous case and contact identification for COVID-19. For example, in Wuhan more than 1800 teams of epidemiologists, with a minimum of 5 people/team, are tracing tens of thousands of contacts a day. Contact follow up is painstaking, with a high percentage of identified close contacts completing medical observation. Between 1% and 5% of contacts were subsequently laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19, depending on location.

    For example:
    • As of 17 February, in Shenzhen City, among 2842 identified close contacts, 2842 (100%) were traced and 2240 (72%) have completed medical observation. Among the close contacts, 88 (2.8%) were found to be infected with COVID-19.

    • As of 17 February, in Sichuan Province, among 25493 identified close contacts, 25347 (99%) were traced and 23178 (91%) have completed medical observation. Among the close contacts, 0.9% were found to be infected with COVID-19.

    • As of 20 February, in Guangdong Province, among 9939 identified close contacts, 9939 (100%) were traced and 7765 (78%) have completed medical observation. Among the close contacts, 479 (4.8%) were found to be infected with COVID-19” (pp.8/9).

    During the second stage of the outbreak, “[m]easures were taken to ensure that all cases were treated, and close contacts were isolated and put under medical observation” (page 15).

    It is not clear from the report whether all contacts were tested, though they were apparently quarantined. Contacts have been both tested and quarantined in Singapore, where the army has been called in to help with tracing, according to the BBC.

    In considering next steps for other countries, the report states (emphases added):
    “3. Much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China. These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimize transmission chains in humans. Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts,and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures.

    Achieving the high quality of implementation needed to be successful with such measures requires an unusual and unprecedented speed of decision-making by top leaders, operational thoroughness by public health systems, and engagement of society.

    Given the damage that can be caused by uncontrolled, community-level transmission of this virus, such an approach is warranted to save lives and to gain the weeks and months needed for the testing of therapeutics and vaccine development. Furthermore, as the majority of new cases outside of China are currently occurring in high and middle income countries, a rigorous commitment to slowing transmission in such settings with non-pharmaceutical measures is vital to achieving a second line of defense to protect low income countries that have weaker health systems and coping capacities. The time that can be gained through the full application of these measures – even if just days or weeks – can be invaluable in ultimately reducing COVID-19 illness and deaths. This is apparent in the huge increase in knowledge, approaches and even tools that has taken place in just the 7 weeks since this virus was discovered through the rapid scientific work that has been done in China.”

    The mission recommended countries outside China with imported cases and/or outbreaks of COVID-19 to “[p]rioritize active, exhaustive case finding and immediate testing and isolation, painstaking contact tracing and rigorous quarantine of close contacts” (page 21).
    England

    Blogs by PHE CEO (Duncan Selbie) and PHE’s Deputy Director, National Infections Service (Nick Phin) in mid-February state that contact tracing was being undertaken:
    “PHE now has a very extensive and complex contact tracing operation underway with health protection teams around the country diligently talking to people that might have been in close contact with carriers of the virus to assess their risk, provide advice and ultimately prevent further spread.”
    “So far in the UK we’ve seen a small number of novel coronavirus cases.  At the moment we undertake contact tracing to prevent the infection spreading further. Contact tracing is a fundamental part of outbreak control that’s used by public health professionals around the world.”

    There was no statement that those traced would be tested, isolated or quarantined, and apparently this would be done only if the contact developed symptoms:
    “When we get in touch with a contact we provide them with advice on what to do if they become unwell or develop certain symptoms.  This way they can speak to the right health expert, so that the right advice can be given and right action taken.
    If we believe a contact is at higher risk of infection they may be asked to self-isolate, remaining in their home and staying away from work, school or public places and we contact them daily until they can be given the all-clear.
    If the person being monitored does develop symptoms, we would test them and provide them with specialist care if they have the novel coronavirus.”
    There is also an implication in Nick Phin’s blog that as more cases develop, less contact tracing might be undertaken (emphasis added):
    “Our experts have considerable experience at using contact tracing to prevent and contain outbreaks and to keep the public safe.

    However, it does involve a lot of resources so as part of our comprehensive approach to tackling novel coronavirus in the UK, we’re putting extra resources into our contact tracing efforts. If the virus becomes established in the UK then we mayneed to move to a different phase of the response which focuses less on containment – but we are a long way off that.”

    Concern has been expressed about the UK’s approach to contact tracing and testing – see, for example,  Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, quoted in The Guardian on 12/3/20 as saying that “the UK’s response ‘has clearly not been sufficient’. He and other experts called for much more extensive testing and tracing of the contacts of those diagnosed with Covid-19”.

    The government published today the scientific evidence supporting its COVID-19 response. According to modelling conducted by the authors of one of the papers published, entitled ‘The Efficacy of Contact Tracing for the Containment of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Keeling et al.) :
    “Aggregating across all individuals and under the optimistic assumption that all the contact tracing can be performed rapidly, we expect contact tracing to reduce the basic reproductive ratio from 3.11 to 0.21 – enabling the outbreak to be contained (figure 2). Rapid and effective contact tracing can therefore be highly effective in the early control of COVID-19, but places substantial demands on the local public-health authorities.”

    The basic reproductive ratio basic reproductive ratio, R0, is a standard epidemiological construct for understanding the epidemic potential of an infection; the higher the ratio, the more difficult it will be to control its spread. Ideally, R0 should be 0. If R0 is less than 1, an infected person will transmit the infection to less than one other person, and so the epidemic potential is critically reduced. On basis of this modelling, if contact tracing is not being rigorously conducted now, the possibility of critically reducing the epidemic would be missed.  

    We have not been able to find any data on contact tracing, the testing of contacts, isolation or quarantine in any part of the UK, and have not been able to find any PQs on the subject so far (despite the hundreds already tabled).

    Draft PQs (1) and (2) below are therefore aimed at obtaining those data for England.

    Draft PQ (3) directly addresses the government’s response to the expectation of the Keeling et al. paper published today.

    Draft PQ (4) has been prompted by personal knowledge and conversations with other public health professionals, and concern that public health expertise in infectious diseases and in disease control more generally has been disappearing in local areas. 

    Draft PQ (5) is wider than testing of contacts, but cost may very well be a factor that might have contributed to a lack of testing, and so we have suggested framing the question more broadly.

    Draft PQs


    (1) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will specify, by local authority area, the contact tracing that is currently underway in England in relation to those who have been, or are suspected as having been, infected or contaminated with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), including (a) the number of personnel carrying out such tracing and (b) the number of close contacts (i) identified and (ii) traced.

    (2) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will specify, by local authority area, the number and percentage of close contacts of those who have been, or are suspected as having been, infected or contaminated with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus  2 (SARS-CoV-2), who (a) are undergoing testing (b) have tested positive and (c) have been isolated or quarantined.

    (3) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care whether he is ensuring rapid and effective contact tracing in relation to COVID-19, in light of the authors of the Keeling et al. study entitled ‘The Efficacy of Contact Tracing for the Containment of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) published by the government on 20thMarch 2020, stating that “we expect contract tracing to reduce the basic reproductive ratio from 3.11 to 0.21 – enabling the outbreak to be contained”; and if not, why not.

    (4) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will publish the latest data for the numbers of (a) consultants in communicable disease control and (b) community infection control nurses, and c) their location by local authority area.

    (5) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will specify (a) the public bodies and/or (b) the companies which are carrying out the tests for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and explain the sensitivity and specificity of each test and their cost .
     
    Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health, Newcastle University
    Peter Roderick, Principal Research Associate, Newcastle University
    20/3/20

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    We have now launched another collaborative petition with the people at Change and have support from Health Campaigns Together and Socialist Health Association. 

    It is likely other campaigns will support too in the next few days. Here is the link 

    Change.org/NHS4all

    Please sign and share widely. Please not only post on your own social media networks (though this is vital) but please include in your local group newsletters and prominently on your local group facebook and twitter pages – it might even be an idea to pin the post to the top of your timelines or facebook walls.

    Also please take the time to write an email to your colleagues, fellow campaigners and friends asking them to sign too…

    We’ve put together a model email for you to use here so it won’t take you long, it reads: 

     

    “Dear ____

    Keep Our NHS Public is helping launch a new petition putting six key demands to the government around its response to the Coronavirus pandemic. These demands cover a cross-section of our campaigning priorities, applied to the current moment of crisis  click here to read in full!

    In the current climate, this petition could become absolutely huge, so we definitely need to get out the gate fast with sharing it. Please sign your name and share the petition to all possible contacts! SIGN HERE

    On Twitter, we’re using the hashtags #NHS4All, #6Demands, #Covid-19, #SafetyFirst, #Coronavirus with #NHS4All as the main one.

    Best”

     

    Remember our last petition with Change received 1.3 million signatures and helped the organisation widen its reach, recruit unprecedented numbers and raise much-needed funds – so the bigger this is the better for all of us. And in this moment of isolation and likely imminent lockdown – it’s time at last to embrace, social media and digital campaigning!

    Good luck and thank you from all the team.

    In Solidarity

    Tom Griffiths

    Keep Our NHS Public

    Campaigns Officer

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    Fire and rescue service personnel must receive priority testing and vaccination for coronavirus, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said after some brigades reported losing hundreds of staff to self-isolation.

    In a letter to ministers in Westminster and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the FBU has said that without testing, firefighters and control staff could be self-isolating unnecessarily, when they could be on hand to protect the public.

    The union also says that testing could help reduce the risk of frontline staff transmitting the infection to vulnerable members of the public.

    London Fire Brigade has at least 280 personnel in isolation, 5% of its overall staff; West Midlands Fire Service, which covers Birmingham, has 105 staff in self-isolation, 5.5%; Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has 285 staff in isolation, 3.75%; Essex County Fire and Rescue Service has 61 staff in isolation or 4%.

    Fire and rescue services across the UK are operating with 11,500 fewer firefighters than in 2010, and, unless services are able to test their employees, they could face dangerous shortages.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “In this time of national crisis, every emergency service worker has an important role to play. The NHS is an obvious priority, but any testing regime needs to address all key public services.

    “Without proper testing, the number of fire and rescue personnel available could drop to dangerously low levels. Fires and other non-virus related emergency incidents won’t wait for this crisis to subside and ministers need to consider that carefully.

    “It is vital for public safety that firefighters and control staff, like their colleagues in the NHS, receive priority testing and, once available, vaccination.

    “We’re pushing for measures to limit our members’ exposure to the virus, but some interaction with the public cannot be avoided and ministers need to manage that risk.”

    While the FBU has called for firefighters to cease all non-essential, non-emergency interactions with the public, they will continue to come into contact in emergency situations, placing them at greater risk of infection.

    Emergency fire control staff handle 999 calls and provide vital fire survival guidance for areas of up to 5 million people from a single room. Should one member of staff contract the virus, the emergency call infrastructure for an entire region could be at risk.

    Media contact

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

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    20/03/2020

     

    OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER FROM THE SOCIALIST HEALTH ASSOCIATION

    Dear Mr Johnson,

    The pandemic has exposed the steady destruction of our public services and welfare state which has happened over the last 10 years.

    This is the most unprecedented health challenge in 100 years which is complex and difficult – but as voiced by many experts in the field, we have significant concerns about the way the UK government has hitherto been approaching this national emergency. We hope from now on this will be better co-ordinated. We support frontline staff at this worrying time.

    However the public is finally waking up to the fact that, as a result of government austerity and privatisation policies, we are ill-prepared – with too few ICU facilities, NHS beds, healthcare staff and equipment – to offer a safe and effective response to the virus. Those most at risk also have to use a threadbare social care system which is already bending under the strain.

    The UK should be in a relatively strong position on public health with a comprehensive service, considered one of the best in the world. However, Tory reforms in England destroyed the health authority structure below national level and has slashed budgets but at least Public Health England has a regional organisation and Local Government have Directors of Public Health. We wish to make some key points:

    1. You are placing staff at risk

    There is not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for clinicians/frontline staff who are now personally at risk every time they go to into work.

    There is insufficient testing of staff who, having been put off work with minor illness and then return to the front line, do not know whether they have had the virus or not.

    1. You are placing patients at risk

    There are too few beds and too few trained intensive care staff and equipment such as respirators. The government appears to have acted too late. We should be requisitioning beds from the private sector, not paying them £2.4 million a day.

    Covid-19 testing has been wholly inadequate. It appears that a combination of inadequate preparation and misguided policy is responsible.

    1. You are placing communities at risk

    Undocumented people, for instance migrants and refugees, have long felt unable to use the NHS for fear of being referred to the police or the Home Office. This will increase risk. Legislate on charging and reporting undocumented migrants must at least be suspended.

    Those precariously employed, particularly gig economy workers, are still not financially protected and may be compelled to continue working inadvertently spreading infection.

    Thousands of excess deaths have occurred in the last few years as a result of the slowdown and reversal in life expectancy. Austerity policies have been a significant cause. It confirms international evidence that cutting the welfare state while at the same time introducing austerity, kills people.

    This pandemic is likely to add to that grotesque toll.

    1. You are placing the NHS at risk

    Government policy has split hospitals from general practices and from each other. It has created an industrial approach to care where staff and patients are increasingly seen as economic units. The newest redisorganisation has opened up the English NHS planning process to the private sector and to the US, especially if we have a trade deal. In addition, it has the potential to split the English NHS into 44 independent units – exactly what we do not want as we fight a global pandemic. If your government’s Long-Term Plan had already been fully implemented doing exactly that, we would not have been capable of a well-coordinated national response to the Covid-19 crisis.

    1. You are placing Social Care at risk

    Too little funding for Local Authorities has put social care on life support. Those most at risk receiving personal or residential care appear to receive the least advice and the least support to combat the virus. Those with Direct Payments, organising their own care with Local Authority funding, appear to be entirely on their own if their carers get ill.

    1. You are placing democracy at risk

    The most recent reorganisation of the NHS has made both formal and informal democracy more difficult. Just when we need all communities to collaborate and contribute to responding to this global challenge, NHS organisations have become more distant and poorly responsive.

    It has been frustrating and confusing to have changing government advice without any formal presentation of the data and evidence behind it. It was patronising and did not inspire confidence.

     

    WE EXPECT YOUR GOVERNMENT TO:

    • Treat us like adults – show us the evidence on which you base your decisions
    • Protect frontline staff right now with clinically appropriate protective gear and systematic testing. Bring testing in line with the WHO recommendations.
    • Protect the population of the UK by permanently increasing NHS staff in hospitals and primary care, increasing hospital beds, increasing respirators.
    • Roll back privatisation and austerity across public services.
    • Seize the opportunity of this pandemic to invest for the long-term in the welfare state, recognising that a thriving society requires a thriving state.
    • Suspend now legislation on the charging and reporting of undocumented migrants.
    • Invest permanently in social care, making it free at the point of use, fully funded through progressive taxation, promoting independence for all and delivered by a workforce with appropriate training, career structure, pay and conditions.
    • Protect those in precarious employment from financial meltdown from the pandemic. All those who should not be at work should have an living income.
    • Ensure that people across the UK have equitable access to the help they need, through their Devolved Administrations
    • Review the Long Term Plan

     

    Faced with this international emergency, we need to combine medical expertise – including support from abroad, with technical investment with practical solutions and community engagement along with emergency economic measures to fight this together.

     

    Chair SHA

    Dr Brian Fisher, London

    Vice-chairs SHA

    Dr Tony Jewell

    Tony Beddow, Swansea

    Norma Dudley, London

    Mark Ladbrooke, Oxford

    Secretary

    Jean Hardiman Smith, Ellesmere Port

    Treasurer

    Irene Leonard, Liverpool

    Co-Chair KONP

    Dr Tony O’Sullivan, London

     

    Co-signatories

    Dr John Carlisle, Sheffield.

    Terry Day, London

    Carol Ackroyd, London

    Corrie Louise Lowry, Wirral

    Caroline Bedale, Oldham

    Hazel Brodie, Dumfries

    David Taylor-Gooby, Newcastle

    Peter Mayer, Birmingham

    Dr Alex Scott-Samuel, Liverpool

    Dr Jane Roberts, London

    Dr Judith Varley, Birkenhead

    Vivien Giladi, London

    John Lipetz, London

    Jane Jones, Abergavenny

    Dr Kathrin Thomas, Llandudno

    Dr Louise Irvine, London

    Dr Jacky Davis, London

    Dr Coral Jones, London

    Dr Nick Mann, London

    Dr John Puntis, Leeds

    Brian Gibbons, Swansea

    Anya Cook, Newcastle,

    Alison E. Scouller, Cardiff

    Punita Goodfellow, Newcastle upon Tyne

    Parbinder Kaur, Smethwick

    Gurinder Singh Josan CBE,  Sandwell

    Jos Bell, London.

    Steve Fairfax Chair SHA NE, Newcastle upon Tyne

     

    The Socialist Health Association is a policy and campaigning campaigning membership organisation. We promote health and well-being and the eradication of inequalities through the application of socialist principles to society and government. We believe that these objectives can best be achieved through collective rather than individual action.

    4 Comments

    Our response to Government guidance on COVID and self-isolation
    Our Senior Legal Officer, Katie Wood, has compiled initial guidance on COVID and pregnant women’s rights at work in light of the Government guidance. It covers health and safety, working from home, sick pay, maternity leave and pay, dismissal and redundancy. Please read and share the blog.We have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, about the Government guidance on social distancing and vulnerable adults, including pregnant women. The guidance to self-isolate has clear implications for the income of pregnant women in the workforce during their pregnancy and maternity leave, and for retention of their job. We urge ministers to make a clear public statement that the dismissal of a pregnant woman simply for self-isolating, in line with the Government’s advice, would amount to unlawful pregnancy discrimination. See our letter here and help us share it and demand immediate response from the Government.We are preparing a list of FAQs on COVID, maternity and employment rights. We shall release it as soon as it is ready. Please check our website for regular updates.

     

    Our advice lines are open
    We provide free legal advice on maternity and employment rights to pregnant women and new parents and will carry on throughout this crisis. Please note that receive a huge number of calls under normal circumstances, we are experiencing a spike at the moment. Please check our information sheets first, they cover a comprehensive range of questions.Our National Maternity Rights Advice Line is 0808 802 0029. It is open all weekdays from 10 am to 1 pm for all callers who live outside London.For London residents, please call our London Maternity Rights Advice Line 0808 802 0057, open all weekdays except Wednesdays from 10 am to 1 pm.For those with questions about NHS charging for maternity care, our Maternity Care Access Advice Service is 0808 800 0041, open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays 10 am to 12 noon.

    Please share this information with your networks and direct your contacts to the right advice line number. If you are unable to get through, please be patient. This is an unprecendented situation and we have limited capacity. We are doing our best and we shall deal with all the calls we can handle.

    Posted by Jean Smith on behalf of Maternity Action.

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    COVID-19 Pandemic

    The SHA wants to contribute to the tremendous national and international debate about controlling and mitigating the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will base these thoughts through the lens of a socialist society, which advocated politically in the 1930s to create the NHS in the UK and for other socialist policies, which see the social determinants of health being as important as the provision of health and social care services as we strive for a healthier and fairer society.

    This blog will be the first of a series and will cover

     

    1. A global crisis
    2. The Public Health system
    3. The NHS, Local Government and Social Care
    4. Funding for staff and facilities
    5. Staff training, welfare and support
    6. Vulnerable populations
    7. Assuring Universal Basic Income

     

    1. A global crisis

    This COVID-19 pandemic has already been cited as the greatest public health crisis for at least a generation. The HIV/AIDS pandemic starting in the 1980s had a much slower spread between countries and is estimated to have caused an estimated 25-30m excess deaths so far.  The potential scale of this type of respiratory viral infection pandemic with a faster spread means we should probably look back to the 1957 Asian flu pandemic and indeed the 1918 post war ‘Spanish flu’. The 1918 pandemic led to an estimated 40-50m global deaths and was when there was also no effective vaccine or treatment for the new variant of flu. So basic public health hygiene (hand washing), identifying cases and quarantining (self isolation) are still important. We recognise this as a global challenge, which requires global solidarity and the sharing of knowledge/expertise and advice.

    The WHO, which is part of the United Nations, needs our support and is performing a very beneficial role.  This will be especially important for those Low Middle Income Countries (LMICs) who often have unstable political environments and weak public health and health systems. Remember the Democratic Republic of the Congo who have only just seen off their Ebola epidemic, war torn Syria and the Yemen.

    The USA and other high-income countries should be unambiguous about recognising this as a fundamental global pandemic requiring collaboration between countries along the principles of mutual aid. The UN and WHO need our support and funding and we look to international financial organisations such as the IMF/World Bank to rally around in the way that the world banking system showed they could in their own self inflicted 2008 financial crash. The WHO has recently referred to Europe as the epicentre of the pandemic and we urge the Government to put aside their ideological objections and co-operate fully with the EU and our European partners.

     

    1. The public health system

    The UK itself is in a relatively strong position with a national public health service, which has focus at a UK level (CMO/PHE), scientific advisory structures (SAGE), devolved governments, municipalities and local government. The NHS too still has national lines of control from NHSE to the NHS in England and the equivalents in devolved countries. The Tory ‘Lansley’ reforms in England destroyed the health authority structure below national levels (remember the former Strategic and District Health Authorities) but at least PHE has a regional organisation and Local Government have Directors of Public Health. We regret the fact that the 10 years of Tory austerity has depleted the resources in PHE and Local Government through not funding the PHE budget adequately and not honouring the public health grant for local authorities. We hope that the recent budget will mean that the public health service and local government does receive the financial and other resources required to help lead the pandemic response. Pandemics have always been high up in the UK risk register.

     

    1. The NHS, Local Government and Social Care

    We are grateful that despite the privatisation of many parts of the NHS in England we still have a recognisable system and a culture of service rather than profit within our one million or so staff and their NHS organisations. We were pleased to hear the open ended funding commitment from the Chancellor at the last budget and urge that leaders within the NHS in England and the devolved countries use this opportunity to try to mitigate the underfunding over the last 10 years and implement the emergency plans that exist and calibrate them to deal most effectively with this particular viral threat. Any debates about further privatisation of the NHS needs to be taken off the agenda and let’s not use the budget money to prop up the private sector but requisition capacity if that is what is needed and compensate usage on an NHS cost basis. We want to protect the NHS from the risk that the NHS Long Term Plan proposals for 44 Integrated Care Schemes opens up the risk of US styled private insurance schemes.

     

    1. Funding for staff and facilities.

    It will of course be difficult as a result of the staffing crisis that has been allowed to drift over the past 10 years with shortages of NHS workforce of 100,000 of which 40,000 are nurse vacancies but also includes doctors and other key staff. We and our Labour Party colleagues have been reminding Tory Ministers  that it takes 10 years to train a medical specialist so you cannot whistle them up or poach them from other poorer countries. The government needs to abolish their proposed points based immigration regime and indeed the compulsory NHS insurance of £650 per adult which is a huge disincentive to come here and work in the health and social care system.

    Hospitals and other health facilities in the UK take time to plan, build and commission. We can of course learn from Wuhan in China where they built a 1000 bedded hospital in weeks! Our own war preparation in the late 1930s when industry shifted production rapidly from civilian to military supplies is another exemplar. Despite the negative impact of 10 years of Tory austerity we urge the NHS to embrace this opportunity to invest in staff, supplies and facilities needed to manage the effects of the pandemic. Creating strategic regional NHS bodies will ensure that capital and revenue resources committed from the centre are used optimally and equitable to meet population needs in collaboration with local authorities.

     

    1. Staff training, welfare and support

    Front line NHS and social care staff will need our support over this time. We must ensure that working practices protect staff as much as possible from the risks in the workplace. Training and provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is vital and employment practices will need to adapt to the changing situation. Lets not forget social care workers, dentists, optometrists and district nurses who are part of our front line. Staff will need retraining if doctors and nurses are to be diverted to unfamiliar roles as we will need A&E, pandemic pods and intensive care unit capacity to be enhanced. Sadly, we now have a significant workforce who work for private contractors as part of the Tory privatisation of the NHS. We need to ensure that they have the same employment safeguards, minimum pay levels, sick pay and the health and safety entitlements as NHS staff. This is the time to renationalise such services back into the fold.

     Patients with existing long-term conditions remain in need of continuing care as will patients presenting with new life-threatening conditions such as cancers, diabetes and circulatory diseases. NHS managers will need support to organise these different services and decisions to postpone non-urgent elective surgery to free up resources. What also makes sense is testing novel ways of supporting people digitally and by teleconferencing to reduce attendance at NHS premises. This can be rolled out for Out Patient provision as well as GP surgeries. The NHS 111 service, and other online services  and the equivalents in the devolved nations can easily be overwhelmed so pushing out good health information and advice is being done and needs to continue. The public and patient engagement has always been at the heart of our policies and can be rolled out in this emergency utilising the third sector more imaginatively.

     

    1. Vulnerable populations.

    In our assessment of what needs to be done we must not bypass the urgent needs of some of our most vulnerable populations. The homeless and rootless populations, many of whom have longstanding mental health conditions and/or substance dependency, are particularly at risk. They need urgent attention working closely with the extensive voluntary sector. Also those populations with long term conditions who will feel at risk if services are withdrawn due to staff redeployment or staff sickness need planning for. Primary care needs to be the service we support to flag up those in need and ensure that their medications and personal care needs continue to be met even if we need to involve volunteers and good neighbours to help out with daily needs such as shopping/providing meals and other tasks.

    Undocumented workers such as migrants and refugees are often frightened to use health services for fear of police intrusion. The government needs to make it clear that there will be no barriers to care for this population during this crisis and beyond.

    Social care is in need of particular attention. It was virtually ignored in the budget. This sector is at risk in terms of problems with recruiting and retaining staff as well as the needs of the recipients of care and support.. While business continuity plans may be in place there is no question that this sector needs investment and generous support at the time of such an emergency. They will be a vital cog in the wheel alongside home-based carers in supporting the NHS and wider social care system. Those most at risk seem to be the most neglected. Disabled people with care needs have received little advice and no support. Already carers are going off sick and can be replaced only with great difficulty. Those paying for their own care with Direct Payments seem to get no support at all.

    With the COVID-19 virus we are seeing that the older population and those with so called ‘underlying conditions’ are at particular risk. We must ensure that this large population do not feel stigmatised and become isolated. Rapid assembly of local support groups should be encouraged which has been referred to as ‘local COBRA groups’. Local government can play a key role in establishing local neighbourhood centres for information and advice on accessing support as we move toward increasing quarantining and isolated households. Again wherever possible the use of IT and telephone connectivity to share information and provide remote support will make this more manageable.

     

    1. Assuring universal basic income.

    Finally the SHA recognises that the economy will be damaged by the pandemic, organisations will go to the wall and staff will lose their jobs and income stream. We have always recognised that the fundamental inequalities arise from the lack of income, adequate housing and the means to provide for everyday life. This pandemic will last for months and we think that the Government needs to ensure that we have systems in place to ensure that every citizen has access to an adequate income through this crisis. We pay particular attention to the 2m part time workers and those on zero hours contracts as well as the 5m self-employed. There have been welcome changes in the timely access to the insufficient Statutory Sick Pay but this is not going to be the answer. People will be losing their jobs as different parts of the economy go under as we are already seeing with aviation, the retail sector and café/restaurants. The government needs to reassure those fearful of losing their jobs that they will stand by them during the pandemic. It may be the time to test the Universal Basic Income concept to give all citizens a guarantee that they will have enough income for healthy living. We already have unacceptable health inequalities so we must not allow this to get worse.

     

    1. Conclusion

    The SHA stands ready to support the national and international efforts to tackle this pandemic. We assert our belief that a socialist approach sees universal health and social care as an essential part of society. That these systems should be funded by all according to a progressive taxation system and meet peoples needs being free at the point of use.  We believe that a thriving state owned and operated NHS and a complimentary not for profit care sector is essential to achieve a situation where rich and poor, young and old and citizens in towns, cities and in rural areas have equal access to the best care.

    We recognise that the social determinants of health underpin our health. We agree with Marmot who reminds us that health and wellbeing is reflected by ‘the conditions that people are born, grow, live, work and age and by the inequities in power, money and resources that influence these conditions’.

    The pandemic is global and is a major threat to people’s health and wellbeing. Universal health and public health services offer the best means of meeting this challenge nationally and globally. Populism and inward looking nationalism needs to be challenged as we work to reduce the human suffering that is unfolding and direct resources to meet the needs of the people at this time.

    On behalf of officers and vice chairs

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    Interactions between firefighters and the public should temporarily be drastically scaled back to limit coronavirus contaminations, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said.

    Non-emergency work such as fire safety visits and inspections, school visits, and public meetings, should be temporarily suspended to reduce the exposure of firefighters to COVID-19 and to protect at-risk individuals from potential contamination from firefighters.

    A number of fire and rescue services have already taken measures to restrict interaction between firefighters and the public, despite little directive from central government.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “While the FBU fully supports public engagement and preventative work as essential to improve fire safety, these are exceptional circumstances.

    “Any non-emergency work that involves interaction with the public must be ceased immediately, as some services have already done, for the protection of both firefighters and the potentially at-risk individuals they interact with.

    “As a core emergency service, firefighters and control staff need to be protected from infection as far as possible. When an emergency does happen, we need to ensure that firefighters are healthy and available in good number to respond.”

    The FBU is calling for services to cease all outside activities other than emergency response unless there is an immediate or imminent safety imperative.

    The union supports actions by services including Northamptonshire to limit these activities and believes all services should immediately tightly control access to emergency fire control rooms and cease:

    • 7(2)d fire familiarisation inspections;
    • Community fire safety visits and inspections (including home safety visits)
    • Audits of fire safety risk assessments and arrangements;
    • Exercises;
    • School visits
    • Public meetings held on fire and rescue service premises;
    • Public access to fire stations

    The announcement was made in a circular to the FBU’s more than 30,000 members, representing the vast majority of the UK’s firefighters and control room staff.

    Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

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    While we welcome the £5bn emergency fund for the NHS and other public services and the open ended commitment made by the Chancellor that the government will provide whatever the NHS needs to meet the challenge of COVID-19; we are concerned to point out three big issues on sustaining an NHS, social care and protecting all workers including those in the gig economy.

    The Chancellor re-iterated the discredited election manifesto statements about 50,000 more nurses while we know that there are already 43,000  funded nurse vacancies. He repeated the mantra about 50 million more GP appointments while recruitment of young doctors to become GPs remains poor and it is not clear how this can be achieved in the short term. He reiterated the discredited election slogan about 40 new hospitals. Both staffing promises ignore the fact that it is not only money that is needed – the legacy of austerity cannot be reversed by a cash injection alone – training a GP/medical specialist takes 10 years. Turn the tap off for 10 years and turn it back on expecting accolades is not good enough.

    We are very concerned too about the immigration health surcharge, which is being increased to £624 per person. The NHS needs to continue to ethically attract health workers into our country for training and service. The surcharge will apply to EU citizens from January next year. This health surcharge is a serious disincentive and opens another pathway for Tories to introduce insurance charging into the NHS. The cost of collection as with all insurance schemes will be prohibitive.

    Social care has been ignored. Everyone involved knows that we should be investing in health and social services and even Jeremy Hunt who presided over NHS austerity is on record as saying that this is a glaring omission in the budget. You need to invest in health and social care and the budget is silent on social care. The budget statement of 8,700 words mentions social care twice only and the manifesto commitment of £1bn/year for 5 years seems to have been lost. Local government leadership role has been ignored such as their role in housing, childcare and social support in communities. The attention given to cars, roads, potholes, red diesel and fuel tax does not signal that the other existential emergency on climate change is being addressed.

    Finally we welcome the steps taken to move entitlement to SSP to day one but worry that the 111 service is already over stretched and should not have the burden of certification forced on them. The health and wellbeing of those who are not eligible for SSP, such as the estimated 2m part time and zero hours workers and the 5m self-employed is inadequately protected: the ESA is probably too small a compensation. Many will feel they have to continue to work, putting their own health and that of their families at risk.

    The SHA campaigns for health and social services to be free at the point of need and to be funded by general taxation. We know that the 10 years of Tory austerity has damaged the fabric of our NHS and we need to invest in capital and training of staff with confidence in long term growth and sustainability. In a modern society the social care services need to be an integral part of our system and should be planned together with joint investment. This budget has missed an opportunity to make this change.

     

    On behalf of the Officers and Vice Chairs

    1 Comment

    29th February 2020 the chairman of the Commons Health Committee, and former Tory health secretary, Jeremy Hunt said that we need to consider the ‘social and economic trade-offs’ we are willing to make to contain Covid-19.

    TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said:

    Employers have a duty of care to support workers affected by coronavirus. No one should have to worry about making ends meet if they have to self-isolate or if they fall ill. They should be able to focus on getting better.

    The threat of coronavirus shows why sick pay should be a day one right for everybody. It’s unacceptable that millions of UK workers miss out on this protection. The Government must ensure everyone gets statutory sick pay, however much they earn.

    The SHA strongly supports the view of the TUC and urges that this scheme is extended to those on ‘self employment’ contracts – part of the 3 million plus ‘Gig economy’. We would argue further that employers should make up SSP to the average pay of workers to ensure they are under absolutely no financial pressure to attend work while they are unwell and may inadvertently pass on the disease.

    Should the coronavirus outbreak spread significantly everyone will be expected to respond putting the interests of the community first. Undoubtedly workers will volunteer long hours and take on exceptional responsibilities. This will increase the risk of errors which will need to be balanced against the risk of failure to treat patients in a mass outbreak. We urge professional bodies to be aware of this.

    The SHA congratulates trade union and Labour leaders for engaging with the government and employers and instructs our incoming leadership to move very rapidly to promote this position through forceful lobbying, online petitions and other appropriate means.

    During the debate important points were raised regarding:

    1.) Enforced quarantine – it should be paid in full.

    2.) Government requisition private care facilities if circumstances require it.

    3.) Government to consider early releases of prisoners not judged to be a risk to society – because of high COVID-19 spread risk in confined overcrowded prison populations (also note criminalisation of sections of society).

    2 Comments

     

    Make the UK the safest place world to have a baby!

    Why is the UK still not in the top ten countries for infant mortality and for maternal deaths? Why? We are a rich country. We have an established high-quality health service. Healthcare is supposed to be accessible to all. How come babies and mothers die or are badly hurt at birth? How come Black and Ethnic minority babies suffer most? Why do poor areas have worse outcomes than wealthy areas? Why is infant mortality rising? (The infant mortality rate is the number of children that die under one year of age in a given year, per 1,000 live births. The neonatal mortality rate is the number of children that die under 28 days of age in a given year, per 1,000 live births. These are both common measures of health care quality, but they are also influenced by social, economic and environmental factors). Are there fundamental problems with core policy documents like the maternity review “Better births”? These are painful questions.

    Our campaign wants real improvements for mothers and babies. This posting is not intended as a clinical paper, it is a discussion amongst activists and concerned citizens about where the problems lie. A key set of participants in this discussion are mothers who have given birth, including those who have lost babies, grandmothers and other birth partners, and women who could not conceive.

    Our campaign published our Maternity Manifesto during the election but though well shared on Facebook, it did not get into any parties’ manifesto.

    We also called a national meeting on issues in maternity care.

    What then are the factors that result in UK outcomes at birth worse than other advanced countries?

    The answers include shortage of NHS funding, staffing shortages, poor management in some hospitals, staff in fear of speaking out, some policies and procedures, disrespect towards the women carrying the baby, and, as cited in the East Kent enquiry, a lack of practical understanding by staff and by mums of the need to “count the kicks” in the latter part of pregnancy. The introduction of charges for migrant women has also caused deaths. NHS material seems to centre the cause on mothers who smoke, or who are overweight. (Now smoking in pregnancy is plain stupid, it really is, and most mums would not do so if they were not addicted. Don’t do it!). However, other countries, Greece for example, who smoke more, have better outcomes in pregnancy than does the UK. Wider problems like obesity and diabetes, and even women giving birth older, are mentioned in the literature about this. Again, the age of the mother as a factor, but this is only partly true. Giving birth older is often safer than giving birth too young. Globally it is most often young girls who die in childbirth.

    Answers may lie in the financially and emotionally vulnerable place that pregnant women occupy in our society, including poverty, violence and stress. Poverty and inequality are factors in infant mortality; “The sustained and unprecedented rise in infant mortality in England from 2014 to 2017 was not experienced evenly across the population. In the most deprived local authorities, the previously declining trend in infant mortality reversed and mortality rose, leading to an additional 24 infant deaths per 100 000 live births per year (95% CI 6 to 42), relative to the previous trend. There was no significant change from the pre-existing trend in the most affluent local authorities. As a result, inequalities in infant mortality increased, with the gap between the most and the least deprived local authority areas widening by 52 deaths per 100 000 births (95% CI 36 to 68). Overall from 2014 to 2017, there were a total of 572 excess infant deaths (95% CI 200 to 944) compared with what would have been expected based on historical trends. We estimated that each 1% increase in child poverty was significantly associated with an extra 5.8 infant deaths per 100 000 live births (95% CI 2.4 to 9.2). The findings suggest that about a third of the increases in infant mortality between 2014 and 2017 can be attributed to rising child poverty (172 deaths, 95% CI 74 to 266).” (Our bold for emphasis).

    The UK is a rich advanced country, with a long history of universal healthcare but we have rising infant mortality. “Rising infant mortality is unusual in high-income countries, and international data show that infant mortality has continued to decline in most rich countries in recent years” and “In the most deprived local authorities, the previously declining trend in infant mortality reversed and mortality rose, leading to an additional 24 infant deaths per 100,000 live births per year, relative to the previous trend“.

    Poverty is not the sole cause of high Infant Mortality though, Cuba has good outcomes equal to the UK for infant mortality. Cuba is very poor indeed and the UK is one of the wealthiest economies (sadly Cuba does less well on maternal deaths).  

    Research shows out of 700,000 births a year in England and Wales, around 5,000 babies are stillborn or die before they are a month old”. 5,000 babies each year. There have been major news stories about baby deaths in many hospitals, notably in ShropshireEast Kent and Morecombe Bay.

    Maternal deaths. The UK is not in the top ten countries with the lowest infant mortality rate, neither is it the safest place to give birth. In 2015-17“209 women died during or up to six weeks after pregnancy, from causes associated with their pregnancy, among 2,280,451 women giving birth in the UK. 9.2 women per 100,000 died during pregnancy or up to six weeks after childbirth or the end of pregnancy.” In 2016 The UK ranked 24th in the world in Save the Children’s Mothers’ Index and Country Ranking Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovenia, Portugal, New Zealand, Israel, Greece, Canada, Luxembourg, Ireland, and France, all did better than the UK. The situation in some other countries is massively worse than here but that is no excuse. But these baby and mothers’ deaths must stop. We cannot sit back and let these deaths continue.

    Let’s be clear, the situation for women in pregnancy and childbirth is massively better than before the NHS, and is head and shoulders better than in the USA today. But maternal mortality is an issue here in the UK, and a huge issue in poorer countries, especially where women give birth without a trained professional being in attendance. Quite rightly professionals and campaigners in the UK participate in international endeavours to improve this situation. The NHS should be training and sending midwives to those countries, instead, it is recruiting midwives from poorer countries. In Europe we have cuts in healthcare through Austerity; in the global south, the same concept of cutting public services to the bone is called Restructuring.

    Why is the UK, a rich country with (almost) universal health care not doing better by its mothers and babies? Look at just this case and see the problems in the provision of maternity care;

    Archie Batten

    Archie Batten died on 1 September 2019, shortly after birth.

    When his mother called the hospital to say she was in labour, she was told the QEQM maternity unit was closed and she should drive herself to the trust’s other hospital, the William Harvey in Ashford, about 38 miles away.

    This was not feasible and midwives were sent to her home but struggled to deliver the baby and she was transferred by ambulance to QEQM where her son died. Archie’s inquest is scheduled for March. (BBC).

    We know that temporarily “closing” maternity units because they are full is a common occurrence. Women then have to go to a different hospital. Induction of labour can be halted because the unit is full. It is not a pleasant situation for mothers. Some maternity units have closed permanently, meaning mothers have to travel further for treatment, at a time when the ambulance service is under great strain (though being in labour is not considered an emergency for the ambulance service!).

    Shortage of Midwives and consequent overwork for the existing staff. The UK has a shortage of three thousand five hundred midwives. The midwife workforce is skewed towards older midwives who will retire soon.

    Gill Walton, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives said “We know trusts are facing huge pressures to save money demanded by the government, but this cannot be at the expense of safety. We remain 3,500 midwives short in England and if some maternity units regularly have to close their doors it suggests there is an underlying problem around capacity staffing levels.

    Training midwives is not just about recruiting new starters to university courses. There need to be sufficient training places in the Hospitals who are already working flat out, leaving little time for mentoring of students, as well as places in the Universities. Alison Edwards, senior lecturer in midwifery at Birmingham City University, who says: ‘It isn’t as simple as recruiting thousands more students as this requires the infrastructure to support it.

    ‘You need more tutors, more on-site resources and, perhaps more importantly, more mentors and capacity in placement areas – which is currently under immense strain.’ 

    One student midwife wrote about her experiences in this letter, where she described very hard work without either pay or good quality mentoring.

    The government and the NHS call for Continuity Care from Midwives. This means the same midwife or small team of midwives cares for the mother through her pregnancy, birth and postnatal period. We too believe this would be wonderful if it were possible. It is however impossible with the existing ratio of midwives to mothers. Providing continuity of care to the most vulnerable mothers is a good step. NICE have reduced this to the idea of each woman having a named midwife. One to One a private midwife company claimed to provide this but was unable to continue trading, and went bust leaving the NHS to pick up the pieces.

    Nationally the NHS is underfunded and looks set to continue so. Much of the problem comes from a long period of underfunding. We spend less than 9.8 per cent of GDP on health. Switzerland, Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Denmark. Belgium Austria Norway and the Netherlands all spend more. That places the UK 13th in the list of high spenders on health care. The US spends 16.9 %. (although a lot of that money is diverted from patient care to the big corporations and insurance companies). The NHS was the most cost-efficient health care service in the world.

    Underfunding causes staff shortages. Some errors at birth come from staff being overworked and making mistakes.

    Some, our campaign believes, flow from fundamental flaws in government policy such as in the Maternity Review, where the pressure is on staff not to intervene in labour.

     Listen to the Mother. Some of the deaths are from women not being heeded in pregnancy and childbirth. This is backed up in reports from mothers, including some quoted in the big reviews mentioned above. However, overworked and tired staff who know labour like the back of their hand can easily stop heeding an inexperienced mother.

    Poverty kills mothers and babies. As we said above, some deaths, poor baby health, and injuries come from growing maternal poverty and ill-health. Low-income families find it hard to afford good food. Food poverty affects a staggering number of children. The charity UNICEF estimates that “2.5m British children, or 19%, now live in food-insecure households. This means that there are times when their family doesn’t have enough money to acquire enough food, or they cannot buy the full variety of foods needed for a healthy diet. In addition, 10% of these children are also classified as living in severe food insecurity (the European average is 4%) and as a result, are set to experience adverse health.”

    Studies show that;

    The Independent inquiry into inequalities in health (Acheson 1998) found that a child’s long term health was related to the nutrition and physique of his/her mother. Infants whose mothers were obese had a greater risk of subsequent coronary heart disease. Low birth weight (under 2500 g) was associated with increased risk of death in infancy and with increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes and hypertension in later life. Accordingly, the Inquiry recommended, ‘improving the health and nutrition of women of childbearing age and their children, with priority given to the elimination of food poverty and the reduction of obesity’. (NICE )

    A significant number of deaths of new mothers come from mental health issues that spiral out of control. Some of these will be newly developed conditions and some existing conditions made worse by pregnancy and childbirth. Mothers family and professionals must all be on the alert and intervene early. There are good ways to treat mental health in pregnancy.

    Reducing the social and economic stresses around pregnancy would also help reduce the deaths and suffering

    When Birth goes wrong it can be a dreadful experience for everyone involved. In most cases, the panic button brings in a well-drilled team of experts who can solve nearly every problem and do it calmly. At other times, it is dreadful, as described in the coverage of the birth and death of baby Harry Richford. Harry Richford was born at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate in 2017 but died a week later. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-51097200

    Sands, the baby death charity explains that there are many causes of babies dying before birth. Crucially important is that mothers are heeded when they are concerned and that everyone Counts the Kicks

     

    Maternity is not the only area of the NHS that suffers. There have been serious mistakes in NHS planning including closing far too many beds. The NHS closed 17,000 beds and now is working beyond safe bed occupancy. There are 100,000 staff vacancies. Waiting times in A and E are dreadful, as are waiting times for cancer treatment. NHS managers and the Government have taken the NHS far from the Bevan model of healthcare (for history read this).

    Press coverage. How does the press cover the NHS, and baby deaths? There are very real problems in the NHS and maternity care but the coverage in the press of these problems seems to switch on and off in strange ways, often to suit Conservative Party political requirements. The NHS and the Government are masters of propaganda and news manipulation. The public needs to learn to judge the news and to look both for actual problems and look out for bullshit and manipulation. Why was news of the arrest of the nurse from the Countess of Chester hospital headlines on the 70th Anniversary of the NHS? Why was the news of the understaffing there not given similar nationwide publicity? Why have we heard little or nothing since?

    If the government can switch the blame to the professionals in the NHS (but not their mates the high admin of the NHS), then they seem to be happy to publicise the problems. In other cases, problems are swept under the carpet.

    Professionals expect to (and do) take responsibility for their own actions. Mistakes will be made. It is impossible to go through life without some mistakes. When we are dealing with life and death mistakes can be catastrophic, even where there is no ill intent.

    Malicious action is rare.   There are the terrible cases of serial murderer Harold Shipman, and the convicted surgeon Ian Paterson who falsely told women, they had breast cancer and operated on them unnecessarily. The hierarchical system in the NHS and the lack of regulation in private hospital, which was described as “dysfunctional at almost every level” allowed that harmWe have not found such a case in maternity.

    Unintentional bad practice, however, has also harmed babies. No one went to work intending to harm in the events publicised in the Morecombe Bay Enquiry into the deaths of 11 babies and one mother. It was said that “The prime responsibility for ensuring the safety of clinical services rests with the clinicians who provide them, and those associated with the unit failed to discharge this duty over a prolonged period. The prime responsibility for ensuring that they provide safe services and that the warning signs of departure from standards are picked up and acted upon lies with the Trust, the body statutorily responsible for those services.”

    The Enquiry described what happens like this “In the maternity services at Furness General Hospital, this ‘drift’ involved a particularly dangerous combination of declining clinical skills and knowledge, a drive to achieve normal childbirth ‘whatever the cost’ and a reckless approach to detecting and managing mothers and babies at higher risk.”

    The Furness General Hospital was pushing for Foundation Trust status at the time and was not exercising the necessary supervision.

    “Maternity care is almost unique amongst NHS services: the majority of those using it are not ill but going through a sequence of normal physiological changes that usually culminate in two healthy individuals. In consequence, the safety of maternity care depends crucially on maintaining vigilance for early warning of any departure from normality and on taking the right, timely action when it is detected. The corollary is that, if those standards are not met, it may be some time before one or more adverse events occur; given their relative scarcity in maternity care, it is vital that every such occurrence is examined to see why it happened.

    So, many factors come into play in such incidents of harm to mother and baby. Professionals too can be emotionally wrecked by tragedy.

    Huge personal and professional lessons can be learned from a detailed review of cases where mistakes are made. There is a whole literature about learning from mistakes. The worst such incidents are referred to as Never Events. This is just one article about such errors but there is a whole field of research devoted to it. Serious Mistake Reviews often happen at the end of shifts, and in the worst cases, may lead to long public enquiries.

    NHS as a research organisation One of the great virtues of the NHS is the research base it offers professionals. What happens in the NHS which covers 62 million people is studied, evaluated, and researched. This is invaluable to staff and above all to patients. Sadly this research is also of interest to big business especially to those who sell health insurance and to the big corporations who have their ‘snouts’ in the NHS ‘trough’. Research for the common good is clearly different from research to make money. We see that regularly in big pharma. Cheap effective medicines do not make money for the companies. Yet the government is giving away our medical data to companies to make a profit.

    There are also “errors” that happen when everyone is following accepted procedures and protocols; “untoward events, complications, and mishaps that resulted from acceptable diagnostic or therapeutic practice”. Procedures within the NHS can be robust and well researched, and problems still occur.

    https://www.mamaacademy.org.uk/news/mbrrace-saving-lives-improving-mothers-care-2019/

    Research matters. Only by studying outcomes can these errors be revealed. A classic example is the once customary practice of episiotomy, cutting a woman to prevent tears to the perineal skin in childbirth, which is now no longer used except in an emergency. Research both formal and informal changed that practice. As another example of such research, Liverpool Women’s hospital has been involved in research about the benefits of leaving the baby attached by the cord if they are born unwell. NHS staff and other health professionals, academics and pressure groups are working hard to improve outcomes for mothers and babies. Each mothers death is reviewed in the MBRRACE-UK report

    https://mamadoc.co.uk/the-maternal-mortality-report-we-should-all-learn-from/

    Never again. The tragedy of the death of a mother and or baby is felt by that whole extended family. Most families want to know it will never happen again. Cover-ups and lies mean it will happen again, so brutal honesty is needed.

     

    The aftermath of medical treatment or neglect which causes real harm is complex. Whether the outcome is death, life long impairment, or long term physical and mental health issues, these are very significant events for all concerned.

    Campaigners in Liverpool campaign for SEN funding to be returned. 2019

    If a baby is born with life-changing impairments, the baby is left facing catastrophic difficulties and the mother and family can face major heartbreak and hardship. The huge love we have for our kids (may it long continue), whatever their issues, does not prevent the financial, housing and employment issues families with disabled children face. Nor does it guarantee the best educational opportunities, SEN is being battered by cuts. but parents and teachers are fighting back.

     

    The cost of financial “compensation” from an injury to a newborn is huge because it is life long. The cost of this “compensation” used to be carried by the government but the system changed to make hospitals “buy” insurance from a government body which is set up like an insurance company. The cost to the hospital is charged on the basis or earlier claims, like car insurance. Obstetrics make the highest claims of any section of the NHS.

    Liverpool Women’s Hospital had a huge case (not about babies) some years ago, arising from a surgeon who left many women damaged after incontinence operations. Their total bill, over 5 years, according to the Echo, was £58.8 million. “The NHS trust has been forced to pay out £58.8m in the last five years for both recent and historic negligence cases.

    The limited work we do, as a campaign, in holding the hospital to account, leads us to believe lessons have been learned by the hospital. However, in every hospital, there are pressures which could lead to problems. These pressures include financial and organisational, problems of management ethos, and the potential for bullying, the distrust by the staff of their management, and disrespect for whistleblowers.

    The NHS has gone through years of reorganisation after reorganisation. In that time the financial and government pressure has been to complete the re-organisation, or face catastrophic consequences so very many hours of admin and senior doctor time has been wasted on this process. That time could have been focussing on saving babies.

    At STP and national level, there are other problems. The NHS is intensely political. There are deep structural problems. (We believe the NHS should return to the Bevan Model of health care)

    The NHS is not only deprived of adequate funding, but it has also been forced to implement many market-based changes, including the internal market, outsourcing and commissions of services to for-profit companies. These market-based structures are expensive.

    The NHS has also seen dire staff shortages resulting from stupid decisions like removing bursaries, not training enough doctors and the hostile environment to migrant staff.

    There are moral and financial issues in all cases of such errors. The hurt to the babies is our priority.

    Baby deaths and severe injury at birth have complex roots. Though what happens in the hospital is crucial, it is not just what happens in the hospitals that matter. The stress, poverty and anxiety many mothers endure during pregnancy do sometimes affect the outcomes for the child. Many women are still sacked for being pregnant but families can rarely cope with just one wage (do fight back against sacking pregnant women!). See Maternity Action for details. Both mums and midwives can call Maternity Action for advice.

    Low pay or the dreaded universal credit can make food heating and rent all too expensive. This can lead to food poverty. Women do not yet have real equal pay but mothers have the worst pay of all  Benefits are no longer allowed for a third child. even though most claimants are working. Whether parents are working or not, every child has a right to food and shelter, be they first or 10th child. The child gets no choice!

    Not every pregnant woman is in a stable caring relationship. Housing, especially private renting, becomes more difficult when women are pregnant. Who can forget the story of the homeless woman giving birth to twins in the street? Pregnancy is often the time when domestic violence is inflicted on a woman but it is the time when women are least able to walk away. Poverty kills babies too.

    Please join us in campaigning for better outcomes for all mothers and babies in the NHS and across the globe. We want this to start a discussion, so please send us your views. and information

     

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